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South African Trade Deficit Widens as Mineral Exports Slump

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s trade deficit unexpectedly grew for the first time in three months in April as mineral and metal exports slumped, the South African Revenue Service said.

The shortfall expanded to 9.9 billion rand ($1.2 billion) from 5.5 billion rand in March, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said today in an e-mailed statement. The median estimate of nine economists in a Bloomberg survey was for a deficit of 5 billion rand.

Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd., the world’s second-largest platinum producer, on May 29 said output of the metal fell 46 percent because of a six-week strike. Last month’s decline in exports may widen the deficit in the current-account, the broadest measure of trade of goods and services, weakening the rand.

Exports dropped 14.9 percent to 52.2 billion rand in April from the previous month, led by a 23 percent fall in precious and semi-precious stone and metals shipments, the revenue service said. Imports slipped 7.2 percent to 62 billion rand as shipments of mineral products fell 25 percent.

The current-account gap eased to 3.6 percent of gross domestic product in the fourth quarter from 4.1 percent in the previous three months, the central bank said on March 19. The deficit will probably reach 4.3 percent this year, according to the government.

South Africa relies on foreign investment in stocks and bonds to finance the current-account deficit, inflows that have fluctuated this year as slower economic growth led investors to sell riskier, emerging-market assets. The rand has fallen 5.2 percent against the dollar this year and was trading as low as 8.5808 today.

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: Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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