South Africa’s Current-Account Deficit Widens to 6.8% of GDP

Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

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Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

Shipping containers stand on the quay in the harbour in Cape Town.

South Africa’s current-account deficit widened to 6.8 percent of gross domestic product in the third quarter, the biggest gap in more than five years, as a weak rand boosted import costs while strikes and subdued global demand hurt exports.

The gap in the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, grew to an annualized 233 billion rand ($22.6 billion), the Reserve Bank said in its Quarterly Bulletin, released today in the capital, Pretoria. The median estimate of 11 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a deficit of 6 percent of GDP. The second-quarter shortfall was revised to 5.9 percent from 6.5 percent.

“A higher volume of merchandise imports coincided with a firm increase in the rand price of such imports, lifting South Africa’s import bill significantly over the period,” according to the report. “Exports were constrained by lustreless export markets and domestic supply-side constraints,” such as strikes.

The rand has plunged 18 percent against the dollar this year, making it the worst-performing of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Subdued international demand has left manufacturers struggling to take advantage of the weaker currency to boost exports.

External Imbalances

“If it were not for the revision in the previous quarter, the deficit would have been 7.4 percent,” Ilke van Zyl, an economist at Vunani Securities Ltd. in Johannesburg, said by phone. “We need ever-increasing financing to fund our external imbalances, which is a worry. It’s an ongoing symptom of the mismanagement of the country.”

The rand fell as much as 0.5 percent against the dollar after the release of the data. It traded at 10.2929 per dollar at 10:21 a.m., down from 10.2741 late yesterday.

Strikes in the automotive industry hampered exports of manufactured goods, with vehicle shipments dropping “substantially” in the third quarter, the bank said. Carmakers including Volkswagen AG (VOW) and Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) resumed full production in October after a four-week strike over pay by workers at vehicle assembly and auto-component plants.

Commodity Prices

South African exports of platinum, copper, iron ore, nickel and coal gained in rand terms even as the dollar prices for the commodities fell, the report said. The volumes of gold shipments and the metal’s falling price meant its contribution to the value of exports declined in the quarter, it said.

South Africa has the world’s largest-known reserves of platinum, used in the automotive industry, and chrome. It’s also the sixth-biggest gold producer.

The Reserve Bank adjusted current-account deficit figures from 2010 after the South African Revenue Service revised trade data to include exports and imports from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, which are in a customs union with South Africa.

The current-account gap is mainly financed from inflows from abroad into the nation’s bond and stock markets. The Reserve Bank’s data shows foreigners increased their holdings of South African assets even as the U.S. Federal Reserve indicated it may reduce the monetary stimulus that’s helped to support global growth.

Weak Demand

“Despite lingering uncertainty regarding future capital flows to emerging-market countries following the announcement by the U.S. Federal Reserve of its intention to scale down current accommodative monetary policy measures by tapering asset purchases, South Africa recorded a substantial inflow of portfolio investment,” the central bank said.

Foreign portfolio investment surged to 48.8 billion rand in the third quarter compared with an outflow of 5.2 billion rand in the previous three months, according to the report. Still, net purchases of the nation’s bonds by non-residents stood at 28 billion rand so far this year, compared with 93.5 billion rand for the whole of 2012, it said.

Demand in the South African economy slowed in the third quarter, with growth in gross domestic expenditure, which includes spending by consumers, the government and businesses, easing to 1.9 percent from 2.7 percent in the previous three months, the central bank said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net; Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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