SA posts biggest trade gap in seven months in August

South Africa posted its biggest trade gap in seven months in August as strikes curbed commodity exports and oil imports surged.

The deficit widened to R19.1-billion from R14.2-billion in July, the South African Revenue Service said on Monday. The median estimate of 11 economists in a Bloomberg survey was for a R13.9-billion shortfall.

The currency of Africa's largest economy has lost 16% against the dollar this year, the worst performer among 16 emerging market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, as strikes in mining and manufacturing undermined investors' confidence.

The trade deficit in the first eight months of the year reached R107.3-billion, 54% bigger than it was in the same period a year earlier. A worsening trade outlook may add to pressure on the current account shortfall, which reached 6.5% of gross domestic product in second quarter. The government forecast in February that the deficit, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, will average 6.2% this year and 6.3% in 2014. 

South Africa relies mainly on foreign investment in stocks and bonds to finance the shortfall on the current account. Those inflows have fluctuated this year as investors sold riskier, emerging-market assets, contributing to the rand's weakness.

Oil Imports
Exports fell 7.6% in August to R70.7-billion, led by a drop of R4.3-billion, or 23%, in shipments of mineral products, which includes coal and iron ore, the revenue service said. Exports of precious and semiprecious stones declined 7% in the month, while base metals fell 8%.

Imports decreased 0.1% to R89.8-billion as mineral products, which includes oil, surged by R3-billion, or 19%. That offset a 7% decline in machinery imports and 8% fall in chemical products. The monthly trade figures are often volatile, reflecting the timing of shipments of commodities such as oil and diamonds.– Bloomberg

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