Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

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South Africa December Trade Surplus Climbs to Record as Imports Drop

  • Longest streak of positive trade balances since 1999
  • Imports of equipment, machinery and chemical products fall

South Africa recorded its biggest trade surplus in least 27 years in December as imports of equipment components, electronics and chemical products dropped.

The 15.7 billion-rand surplus ($1.3 billion) compares with November’s 13.1 billion-rand positive balance, the Pretoria-based South African Revenue Service said in an emailed statement Wednesday. It’s the 11th straight month of surpluses, the longest such streak since 1999.

Positive trade balances have eased pressure on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, boosting the rand. The currency has also rallied since December, when the ruling African National Congress elected Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the party. It strengthened to below 12 per dollar for the first time since May 2015 last week as the domestic political outlook improved.

Here are some highlights from the statement:

  • Imports of original equipment components decreased 58 percent from November; inward shipment of machinery and electronics fell 15 percent
  • Exports of mineral products retreated 12 percent; shipments of vehicle and transport equipment was down 23 percent
  • Total exports fell 10 percent; total imports decreased 14.1 percent
  • Trade surplus for 2017 is 80.6 billion rand, compared with 1.1 billion rand in 2016

The rand strengthened 0.9 percent to 11.8556 per dollar by 2:12 p.m. in Johannesburg on Wednesday. The yield on rand-denominated government bonds due December 2026 fell 7 basis points to 8.48 percent.

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

— With assistance by Ana Monteiro, and Simbarashe Gumbo

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