SA's trade gap swells in November

South Africa’s trade deficit widened to R12,1-billion in November largely due to higher vehicle imports and lower precious metals exports, official data showed on Tuesday.

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) said the gap widened from a R9,8-billion shortfall in October, despite a sharp drop in oil imports.

Economists polled by Reuters last week had predicted a deficit of R6-billion rand, but the trade number is traditionally volatile and difficult to forecast.

Exports fell by 17,93%, while imports decreased by 12,59%. Precious metals, which make up the biggest chunk of South Africa’s exported goods, fell by 30% on the back of a sluggish global economy.

“It’s a lot bigger than we expected ... it’s not a good number and shows ongoing structural problems in our trade account,” said Russell Lamberti, economist at market analysts ETM.

Sars said the cumulative trade deficit for the first 11 months of the year was R84,2-billion compared with R68,1-billion during the same period last year, keeping pressure on an ailing current account.

The deficit on the current account, which swelled to 7,9% of gross domestic product in the third quarter of 2008, stood at a 36-year high of 7,3% of GDP for 2007 and is expected to widen to 8,9 % of GDP by 2010.

But Lamberti said the trade deficit may start easing in the next few months as importers and exporters adjust after a sharp drop in the rand in 2008.

The rand has lost about 27% against the dollar this year.
While it has rebounded from a six-and-a-half-year low of 11,88 hit in October, most analysts are bearish about its medium-term outlook, partly as a result of the wide current account gap.—Reuters

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