South Africa Trade Balance Swings to Surplus as Exports Rise

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South Africa’s trade balance shifted back into surplus in March as exports of precious metals and electronics climbed.

The trade surplus of 482 million rand ($41 million) compared with a revised 8.7 billion rand deficit in February, the Pretoria-based Revenue Service said in a statement on its website Thursday. The median estimate of 12 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a shortfall of 6.5 billion rand. The deficit for the first three months of the year was 32.6 billion rand compared with 27.2 billion rand in 2014.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the state-owned utility that supplies about 95 percent of the nation’s power, is rationing electricity supply because its aging plants can’t meet demand. The scheduled blackouts, known locally as load shedding, will harm growth prospects in Africa’s most-industrialized economy, according to the World Bank.

The effect of power cuts “was not as severe on mining and manufacturing as we had suspected,” Isaac Matshego, an economist at Nedbank Group Ltd., said by phone from Johannesburg on Thursday. “We will be watching the number very closely in April and May because in April is when load-shedding became more severe.”

A positive trade balance may relieve pressure on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, and the rand. The current-account gap averaged 5.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 and will narrow to 4.5 percent this year, according to the National Treasury.

Rand Positive

The rand initially pared losses after the trade figures were released before depreciating following data showing U.S. jobless claims fell to the lowest level in 15 years. The currency was trading 1 percent weaker at 11.9087 per dollar as of 3:29 p.m. in Johannesburg. Yields on government bonds due December 2026 rose two basis points to 7.96 percent.

“If exports are rebounding, that will be positive for the rand,” Matshego said.

Exports jumped 19 percent to 91.3 billion rand in March as shipments of precious metals and stones surged 4.7 billion rand, or 38 percent, and sales of machinery and electronics increased by 25 percent.

Imports rose 6.5 percent as purchases of vehicles jumped 2.5 billion rand, or 29 percent. Machinery and electronics purchases increased 11 percent, while shipments of vegetable products dropped 41 percent.

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

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