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South Africa Posts Biggest Trade Gap in Seven Months

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- South Africa posted its biggest trade gap in seven months in August as strikes curbed commodity exports and oil imports surged.

The deficit widened to 19.1 billion rand ($1.9 billion) from a revised 13.4 billion rand in July, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said in a e-mailed statement today. The median estimate of 11 economists in a Bloomberg survey was 13.9 billion rand.

The currency of Africa’s largest economy has lost 16 percent against the dollar this year, the worst performer among 16 emerging market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, as strikes in mining and manufacturing undermined investors’ confidence. The trade deficit in the first eight months of the year reached 107.3 billion rand, 54 percent bigger than it was in the same period a year earlier.

A worsening trade outlook may add to pressure on the shortfall, which reached 6.5 percent of gross domestic product in the second quarter. The government forecast in February that the deficit in the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, will average 6.2 percent this year and 6.3 percent in 2014.

‘Strike Activity’

“We remain concerned at the impact strike activity in South Africa’s mining and manufacturing sectors throughout September is likely to have had on the country’s export performance,” Jeffrey Schultz, an economist at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities in Johannesburg, said in a e-mailed note to clients.

South Africa relies mainly on foreign investment in stocks and bonds to finance the shortfall on the current account. Those inflows have fluctuated this year as investors sold riskier, emerging-market assets, contributing to the rand’s weakness.

The currency gained 0.3 percent against the dollar and traded at 10.0371 as of 4:58 p.m. in Johannesburg.

Exports fell 7.6 percent in August to 70.7 billion rand, led by a drop of 4.3 billion rand, or 23 percent, in shipments of mineral products, which includes coal and iron ore, the revenue service said. Exports of precious and semi-precious stones declined 7 percent in the month, while base metals fell 8 percent.

Imports decreased 0.1 percent to 89.8 billion rand as mineral products, which includes oil, surged by 3 billion rand, or 19 percent. That offset a 7 percent decline in machinery imports and 8 percent fall in chemical products.

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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