Exports down 6.5 per cent

JAMES WEIR
Last updated 12:25 26/05/2014

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New Zealand ran a lower than expected trade surplus of $534 million in April and the run of surpluses may have hit its peak, economists say.

Dairy and meat product export volumes dropped between March and April this year, taking overall exports down 6.5 per cent to $4.5 billion, according to Statistics New Zealand figures out today.

The monthly trade surplus was less than market expectations of $634m.

The annual trade surplus was almost $1.2b, with eight monthly trade surpluses in a row.

"This looks to be about the peak, however, given the strong domestic demand backdrop supporting import demand and signs of weakness on the commodity-price front," ANZ economists said.

However, the drop in exports was driven by lower volumes rather than prices, though economists expected the recent falls in world dairy auction prices to show through in export figures this year.

The seasonally adjusted fall in total exports in April was led by a drop in milk powder, butter and cheese exports, after big increases late last year.

Volumes were down for both dairy products (5 per cent) and meat (8 per cent) in April, compared with March.

The trend for dairy-product exports has come down from a recent peak at the end of last year. Prices at the latest fortnightly GlobalDairyTrade auction fell 1.8 per cent last week, the seventh straight fall, with the trade-weighted price index down 22.6 per cent since its peak on February 4.

While dairy product prices have come off their peaks, they still remain well above the average in the past decade.

But Westpac economists said the auction prices related to delivery in future, so the impact should start to show up in trade figures in the next few months.

Despite the drop between March and April, total exports were still $4.5b in April, which was up $553m on the same month last year, Statistics NZ said.

The latest figures, out this morning, show sales to China have boomed again over the past year.

Exports to China in April were up $246m, or 38 per cent, compared with the same month last year. The leap in exports was led by milk powder and pine logs.

But seasonally adjusted, total exports of milk powder, butter and cheese fell 2.5 per cent or by $33m, adding to a 7.4 per cent fall in March. Seasonally adjusted volumes were down 5.3 per cent.

New Zealand ran a trade surplus of $534m in April.

Seasonally adjusted imports fell 5 per cent between March and April. But March imports were boosted by a one-off $216m oil-drilling platform arriving in the month, so imports were "more or less unchanged" otherwise, Westpac said.

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Compared with April last year, the value of milk powder, butter, and cheese was up more than one-third, to $1.2b.

Quantities showed little change, up 1.6 per cent. Milk powder, anhydrous milk fat, and butter showed the largest rises.

"Large price-driven increases in values this dairy season, compared with last, led to record total export values," Statistics NZ international statistics manager Jason Attewell said.

"However, April 2014 is the first month since August 2013 where the export value was not a record for the month."

- Stuff

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