By Alex Tarrant
New Zealand recorded a merchandise trade surplus of NZ$1.1 billion in April, the highest monthly surplus ever recorded, figures released by Statistics New Zealand show.
Economists had been expecting a surplus of NZ$600 million for the month, up from NZ$578 million in March, revised up from NZ$464 million previously.
The NZ$1.1 billion surplus in April was 24% of the value in exports, and was the highest in this measure since May 1993, Stats NZ said.
Following the figures, the New Zealand dollar rose to a post-float high of 82.15 US cents, from 81.64 US cents immediately before the release. At 1 o'clock Monday afternoon, the Kiwi had retreated slightly to just above 82 US cents. The previous high of 82.14 US cents was recorded on March 14, 2008.
Record month for exports
“Contributing to the surplus, exports in April 2011 reached NZ$4.7 billion, also a new high,” Stats NZ overseas trade manager Neil Kelly said.
The total value of goods exported in April 2011 rose NZ$691 million (17%) from April 2010, across a range of commodities, led by the milk powder, butter, and cheese commodity group, Kelly said.
The total value of goods imported in April 2011 rose NZ$238 million (7.2%) from April 2010, to NZ$3.5 billion, led by increases in petroleum and products values.
"The trends for export and import values have continued to increase since their most recent low points in September 2009. While the trend for exports is at its highest level, the trend for imports is 9.5% below its peak in September 2008," Kelly said.
The annual trade balance for the year ended April 2011 was a surplus of NZ$1.2 billion (2.6% of exports). This was the largest surplus for a year ended April since 1994, Kelly said.
Something for Reserve Bank to watch
ASB economist Jane Turner said the strength in exports appeared to be relatively broad based through a range of export categories, and fundamentals for a strong export performance remained positive for the future.
"The strength in the export data, particularly in commodities, highlights the export-led nature of the economic recovery. However, despite the increase in incomes, the rural sector has remained relatively cautious, opting to reduce debt rather than increase investment and other spending. This has muted the stimulatory impact on the remainder of the economy," Turner said.
"Going forward, commodity exports are expected to continue to perform well, given the robust strength in agricultural commodity prices on global markets," Turner said.
"The key issue for the RBNZ to monitor is when increased rural incomes and confidence translate to increased spending and investment."
(Updates with NZ$ reaction, ASB economist comments, provides revised March surplus figure of NZ$578 milion, up from NZ$464 million, with Stats NZ comments, chart)