South Africa Trade Gap Widens as Mineral Imports Gain

South Africa’s trade gap widened more than economists estimated in April as mineral and machinery imports climbed.

The shortfall increased to 15 billion rand ($1.5 billion), the biggest deficit since January, from 7.8 billion rand in March, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said today in an e-mailed statement. The median estimate of 13 economists in a Bloomberg survey was for a 9.5 billion-rand deficit.

South Africa’s trade gap widened to 57 billion rand for the first four months of 2013, keeping pressure on the rand and the current account. The currency has declined by more than 16 percent against the dollar this year, the biggest drop among the 16 major currencies monitored by Bloomberg.

Exports rose 3 percent to 65.4 billion rand in April from the previous month, led by a 10 percent gain in shipments of base metals and a 4 percent increase in mineral exports. Imports gained 12 percent to 80.5 billion rand in the month, as mineral-product purchases, which includes oil, jumped 22 percent. Imports of machinery and electrical appliances advanced 21 percent, and plastics and rubber 20 percent.

The deficit on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, will probably average 6.2 percent of gross domestic product in the next three years, up from an earlier estimate of 5.6 percent, according to the National Treasury. It was at 6.5 percent of GDP in the fourth quarter of last year, the fourth biggest gap of about 60 countries tracked by Bloomberg.

South Africa relies mainly on foreign investment in stocks and bonds to finance the current-account shortfall, inflows that have fluctuated as investors sold riskier, emerging-market assets.

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

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