• Trade shortfall to keep pressure on rand's exchange rate
  • Current-account gap was 5.1% of GDP in fourth quarter

South Africa’s trade deficit narrowed in February as exports of vehicles, precious stones and metals surged.

The trade shortfall shrank to 1.1 billion rand ($75 million) from a revised 18 billion rand in January, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday. The median of seven economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg was for a gap of 5.2 billion rand.

The trade deficit will keep pressure on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, and the rand, which weakened to a record-low in January. The current-account shortfall widened to 5.1 percent of gross domestic product in the three months through December, the highest in more than a year, from 4.3 percent in the previous quarter.

The benefit to exports of the rand’s drop of more than 20 percent against the dollar since the start of last year is partly curtailed by low commodity prices and subdued external demand, Kamilla Kaplan, an economist at Investec Ltd. in Johannesburg, said in an e-mailed note to clients before the data were released.

Exports rose 27 percent to 90.7 billion rand in February from the previous month, led by a 109 percent surge in shipments of vehicles and transportation equipment and an increase of 52 percent in the exports of precious stones and metals, which include diamonds.

Imports increased by 2.7 percent to 91.8 billion rand as the purchases of vehicles rose 19 percent and textile imports expanded by 24 percent.

The rand strengthened 1.4 percent to 14.7374 per dollar as of 2:40 p.m. in Johannesburg on Thursday.

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

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