New Zealand Posts Its First Trade Surplus in 8 Months on Commodity Prices

New Zealand posted its first trade surplus in eight months in February as record-high commodity prices boosted exports of milk powder and lumber, while an aircraft purchase raised imports more than economists forecast.

Exports outpaced imports by NZ$194 million ($146 million) from a revised NZ$3 million deficit in January, Statistics New Zealand said today in Wellington. The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 12 economists was for a NZ$270 million surplus.

Rising shipments abroad, which make up 30 percent of gross domestic product, may help New Zealand’s economy recover from an earthquake last month in Christchurch that will likely subtract from growth. The central bank this month cut its 2011 growth forecast to 1.3 percent from 2.7 percent after the magnitude 6.3 temblor struck the city Feb. 22, killing at least 166 people and reducing many buildings to rubble in the central business district.

“Another trade surplus suggests the fundamentals for the trade sector remain strong,” Mark Smith, an economist at ANZ National Bank Ltd. in Wellington, said in an e-mailed note. “The data has confirmed the much-needed rebalancing toward the earning side of the New Zealand economy is continuing.”

The currency was little changed after the release. It bought 75.08 U.S. cents as of 11:51 a.m. in Wellington from 75.06 cents immediately before the data.

Exports, Imports

Exports rose 17 percent from the year-earlier month to a nine-month high of NZ$3.87 billion, today’s report showed. Imports jumped 23 percent to NZ$3.68 billion, more than the NZ$3.30 billion forecast in the economists’ survey.

Commodity prices rose 2.7 percent in February from January to a record, according to an index released earlier this month and calculated by ANZ National. From a year earlier, the index increased 26 percent.

Dairy exports, which make up a fifth of overseas sales, rose 28 percent from a year earlier to NZ$972 million, today’s report showed. Lumber, crude oil and aluminum exports also increased. Meat exports were little changed.

Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the world’s largest dairy exporter, last week said sales in the six months ended Jan. 31 rose 21 percent as prices climbed, buoyed by demand from key markets such as China. The Auckland-based company reaffirmed its forecast of record payments to milk suppliers this year.

China’s Demand

New Zealand’s exports to China, its second-biggest market, rose 39 percent in the year ended Feb. 28 to NZ$5.21 billion, today’s report showed. Shipments to Australia, the largest buyer of the nation’s shipments, rose to NZ$10.14 billion.

Imports were led higher by the purchase of an aircraft worth NZ$224 million, statistics officials told reporters.

The plane was likely Air New Zealand Ltd.’s second new Boeing Co. 777 aircraft, said Jane Turner, an economist at ASB Bank Ltd. in Auckland. The carrier is scheduled to bring in five new 777s over the next year, with deliveries expected in each quarter this year, she said.

Excluding the plane, imports rose 15 percent and the trade surplus would have been NZ$418 million, the statistics agency said. Imports were also supported by increases in fuel, machinery and vehicles.

New Zealand posted a trade surplus of NZ$758 million in the 12 months ended Feb. 28 from a revised NZ$893 million in the year through January. Economists expected a 12-month surplus of NZ$815 million.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tracy Withers in Wellington at twithers@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net

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