South Africa posted a record trade surplus of 10.3 billion rand ($1.4 billion) in December as factories shut for year-end holidays, slashing imports.
The surplus widened from 8.4 billion rand in November, the South African Revenue Service said in an e-mailed statement today. The median estimate of 13 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a deficit of 3.1 billion rand.
Rising commodity prices and a rebound in global export demand helped South Africa post a surplus of 5 billion rand in 2010, the first in seven years and compared with a deficit of 27.3 billion rand in 2009. That’s helped to underpin the rand, which strengthened 11 percent against the dollar last year.
“Exports have benefited from rising global demand for commodities,” said Salomi Odendaal, an economist at Citadel Investment Services in Cape Town. “As South Africa’s recovery gathers steam, we’ll see higher imports. We’re likely to see small trade deficits in coming months.”
The rand was at 7.1931 against the dollar as of 2:50 p.m. in Johannesburg from 7.1841 before the data was released. The yield on the R157 government bond, due 2015, rose 1 basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, to 7.92 percent.
Imports slumped 16 percent to 43.6 billion rand in December, mainly due to a drop in equipment parts, base metals and textiles, the revenue service said. Exports slid 10 percent to 53.9 billion rand as shipments of food and vehicles declined.
For the whole of 2010, exports climbed 15 percent to 590.2 billion rand, boosted by iron ore, precious metals and base metals, the revenue service said. Spot iron-ore prices in China have jumped 58 percent since July 13, while platinum has increased 12 percent in the past six months.
The trade surplus will help to narrow the deficit in South Africa’s current account, the broadest measure in trade of goods and services, which reached 3 percent of gross domestic product in the third quarter. South Africa relies on foreign portfolio inflows to fund the deficit, which the government has referred to as the economy’s “Achilles heel.”
South African trade figures are often volatile, reflecting the timing of shipments of commodities such as oil and diamonds.