South Africa Posts Second Monthly Trade Surplus in December

South Africa posted a trade surplus for a second consecutive month in December as factories shut for the year-end holidays, reducing demand for imports.

The trade surplus swelled to 2.8 billion rand ($247 million) in December compared with 770 million rand in November, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said in an e-mailed statement today. The median estimate of nine economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a surplus of 3 billion rand.

“A trade surplus is traditionally recorded in the month of December,” Kamilla Kaplan, an economist at Investec Ltd. in Johannesburg, said in an e-mailed note to clients before the data was released. “Export growth is yet to reflect the enhanced competitiveness stemming from the weaker rand.”

For 2013 as a whole, the trade deficit more than doubled to 69.9 billion rand from the previous year, adding to pressure on the current-account deficit, which the government estimates widened to 6.5 percent of gross domestic product last year from 6.3 percent.

South Africa relies mainly on foreign investment in stocks and bonds to help finance the shortfall on the current account, inflows that have fluctuated since last year as investors’ risk perception toward emerging markets increased. The rand has plunged 25 percent against the dollar since the start of last year, the worst performer among 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Exports decreased 10.3 percent to 77.6 billion rand in December, held back by a 20.8 percent drop in vehicle exports and shipments of precious metals and stones, which declined by 24 percent, the revenue service said.

Imports dropped by 12.8 percent to 74.8 billion rand as machinery purchases declined by 20.2 percent and mineral products, which include oil, increased 5.4 percent.

The monthly trade figures are often volatile, reflecting the timing of shipments of commodities such as oil and diamonds.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rene Vollgraaff in Johannesburg at rvollgraaff@bloomberg.net

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

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