Australia’s trade surplus increased to a record $4.801 billion in February, although economists’ views varied on what that could mean for GDP.
Exports edged up 0.2 per cent for the month while imports were down one per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday, as the balance on goods and services grew by $450 million.
That lifted the surplus from a revised $4.351 billion in January, when market consensus had been for the trade balance to narrow to a $3.7 billion surplus.
In seasonally adjusted terms, income from metal ore exports increased 11 per cent – reaching a record high of $9.569 billion – while coal exports slid 13 per cent and the value of gold leaving the country fell seven per cent.
The importation of consumption goods increased by $12 million or 0.1 per cent – including an 18 per cent jump in car imports, partly offset by a 10 per cent drop in incoming toys, books and leisure goods.
Westpac analyst Andrew Hanlan said the strengthening of Australia’s trade balance was most likely attributable to the higher price of commodities like iron ore.
“The lift in prices is boosting Australia’s national income, which is flowing through to higher tax revenues – providing governments with additional fiscal flexibility, as evident in recent budget updates,” he said.
Economists differed on the data’s implications for the Australian GDP figure in the first quarter of 2019, with Tom Kennedy from JP Morgan suggesting the export and import trend numbers hinted at a modest drag.
“While still early days in the GDP accounting process, this combination does not bode particularly well for net exports or private (capital expenditure),” he said.
But Jack Chambers and Felicity Emmett from ANZ said that a mix of broadly steady exports, lower fuel imports and elevated exports of gold “suggests a positive contribution from net exports towards Q1 GDP”.