By Rebecca Howard
June 25 (BusinessDesk) - Dairy exports - to China in particular - helped propel May exports to a record high and meant the monthly trade surplus was slightly wider than expected.
Exports rose 8.5 percent to $5.8 billion on the year in May while imports rose 7.6 percent to $5.5 billion. The May trade surplus was $264 million. The annual trade balance was a $5.49 billion deficit versus a revised $5.56 billion deficit for the 12 months through April. It was $3.7 billion in the year ended May 2018.
Economists polled by Bloomberg had expected a surplus of $200 million in May and an annual trade deficit of $5.5 billion.
Dairy products led the rise in exports. They reached $1.3 billion in May, up 15 percent from the same month a year earlier.
The rise was led by milk powder, up $155 million on a year earlier. It was quantity-led but unit values also rose, up 3.9 percent on May 2018. In contrast, milk fats including butter fell $58 million.
“The rise in dairy export values in recent months mainly reflects greater quantities,” international trade analyst Dave Adair said.
Preparations of milk, cereals, flour, and starch rose 41 percent to $247 million. This commodity group includes infant formula.
Fruit exports rose 8.8 percent to $651 million, led by gold kiwifruit. Fish, crustaceans, and molluscs rose 35 percent to $189 million.
On the import side, crude oil imports lifted $363 million to $438 million. Stats NZ noted that in May 2018 there was a planned maintenance shutdown of the Marsden Point oil refinery so crude oil imports were unusually low.
Imports of ships, boats and floating structures and aircraft and parts also lifted.
In terms of New Zealand's two largest trading partners, exports to China continued to storm higher, lifting 29.1 percent on the year in May and 22.1 percent in the 12 months to the end of May versus the same period a year earlier. Exports to China were led by increases in milk powder, beef, food preparations and logs.
Exports to Australia, meanwhile, dipped 2.4 percent on the year in May and 0.6 percent in the 12 months to the end of May.
Imports from China also continued to gain, lifting 5.1 percent on the year in May and 15 percent in the 12-month period versus the same period a year earlier.