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Largest monthly trade deficit on record

25 October 2018

Record imports in September 2018 led to the largest-ever monthly goods trade deficit of $1.6 billion, Stats NZ said today.

This is the second month in a row showing a record monthly trade shortfall.

In September 2018, imports rose $930 million (19 percent) on the same month last year to reach $5.9 billion, the highest value for total imports on record.

Exports were up $536 million (14 percent) to reach $4.3 billion.

Text alternative for Merchandise trade balance – monthly values and balances as % of exports

September months usually show a trade deficit because it is a low point in the export season for key products such as dairy and meat. The last surplus for a September month was in 1991. The September 2018 deficit was equal to almost 40 percent of exports for the month (see monthly merchandise trade balance graph).

The Reserve Bank trade weighted index (TWI) (measuring the New Zealand dollar against the currencies of other key trading partners) has been falling since August 2017 when compared with the same month of the previous year. The TWI is now 5.4 percent lower than at September 2017.

“This month’s record imports continue the high values seen since May 2018,” international statistics manager Tehseen Islam said. “The monthly imports value has been more than $5 billion for the past five months, in part reflecting high prices for imported fuel and crude oil.”

Petroleum and products lead imports rise

The leading contributor to the rise in total imports were petroleum and products, up $366 million (87 percent) from September last year. This increase was led by crude oil (up $278 million) and fuels (up $86 million).

Imports of crude oil and other petroleum products tend to fluctuate from month to month. The increase in crude oil import values this month reflected higher prices as volumes fell 1.9 percent from September 2017.

Imports of aircraft and parts also rose in September 2018, up $266 million. Aircraft imports are irregular and can mean one-off rises or falls in monthly figures.

Kiwifruit leads exports rise

The leading contributor to the rise in total exports was fruit, up $188 million (118 percent). This increase was led by gold kiwifruit, up $122 million, and green kiwifruit, up $62 million.

Exports of gold kiwifruit in September 2018 were worth $140 million, up sharply compared with the same month in 2017 and 2016. This increase reflects both higher production volumes and prices this year.

Also contributing to the rise in exports were forestry products (up $75 million or 19 percent) and meat and edible offal (up $61 million or 20 percent).

Dairy products were down $32 million (4.1 percent).

Text alternative for Merchandise trade balance – monthly values and balances as % of exports

The column-line graph shows the monthly merchandise trade balances (exports minus imports) on the left y-axis, and balances as a percentage of exports (balance divided by exports) on the right y-axis. The time series ranges from September 2014 to September 2018. In the September 2018 month, the balance was a deficit of $1.6 billion, which is the largest monthly deficit ever. This balance is equivalent to 36 percent of exports.

The Government Statistician authorises all statistics and data we publish.

For more information about these statistics:

• Visit Overseas merchandise trade: September 2018

• See Annual trade deficit largest since January 2009

• See CSV files for download


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