South Africa Posts Trade Deficit After Derailment

South Africa posted its biggest trade deficit in six months in August after a rail accident disrupted iron ore exports.

The shortfall was 4.7 billion rand ($675 million), compared with a surplus of 2 billion rand in July, the South African Revenue Service said in an e-mailed statement today. The median estimate of 12 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a deficit of 800 million rand.

Transnet Ltd., the state-owned port and rail operator, shut its Sishen-Saldanha railroad for six days through July 28 after more than 120 wagons derailed. The 861-kilometer (535-mile) railway, which carries iron ore exports from mines near Sishen in the Northern Cape to the port at Saldanha in the Western Cape, transports about 34 million metric tons a year, according to Transnet.

“The export of mineral products was impacted negatively in August due to a derailment late July on an export line,” the revenue service said in its statement. “The loss in mineral products export volumes however is expected to be recovered over the next few months.”

Exports of mineral products, which include coal and iron ore, plunged by 3.4 billion rand, or 27 percent, in August from the previous month, the revenue service said. That curbed total exports to 48.5 billion rand, 13.4 percent less than in July.

Current Account

Imports declined 1.5 percent to 53.2 billion rand in the month, mainly due to a 27 percent slump in oil shipments. Lower volumes, a stronger rand and a drop in oil prices have helped to curb crude imports this year, Andrew Fisher, an executive at the revenue service, said in a phone interview.

The trade gap last month may widen the current account deficit, which narrowed to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product in the second quarter, the lowest level in more than six years. The smaller gap in the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, has helped to underpin the rand, which surged almost 10 percent against the dollar this quarter.

“We see the current account deficit widening in the third quarter,” said Shireen Darmalingam, an economist at Standard Bank Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest lender. “And even though there is likely to be sufficient funds to finance the deficit, we do not discount the fact that sentiment could weaken and emerging market risk aversion could set in.”

The rand was little changed at 6.9834 against the dollar as of 3:50 p.m. in Johannesburg from 6.9867 before the data was released.

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

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