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Australia's exports price boom smashed imports in the March quarter

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The commodities cyle has driven a boom in Australian export prices for the March quarter, while import prices have remained consistent.

That’s the main theme to be drawn from this morning’s International Trade Price Index released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The March quarter price index for Australia’s imports and exports shows that import prices are consistent, but export prices remain volatile.

Import prices rose by 1.2% from the previous quarter, but dropped by 0.6% against the corresponding quarter last year.

That was in stark contrast to the export price index, which were 9.4% higher than the December quarter and a whopping 29.1% higher than the same time last year.

The rise in export prices was due to a turn in the commodities cycle, with iron ore reaching a high of over $94 per tonne in late February.

“Global demand for Australia’s mining commodities in the March quarter 2017 was reflected in the higher prices received by exporters for a range of products”, the ABS said.

Pete Wargent, of AllenWargent Advisory, prepared this chart which shows the recent uptick in export prices as the commodities cycle rose.

Metalliferous ores and metal scrap — comprising iron ore, alumina and copper — rose by 18.8% in the quarter. The rise in prices follows a quarterly increase of 12.% in the December quarter, which was the fastest rise since 2010.

The 29.1% annual increase was driven by a 51.3% increase in Metalliferous ores and metal scrap over the 12 months to the end of March — the largest annual rise since the end of March.

Wargent’s next chart neatly explains how the export price index has varied with the commodities cycle:

The rise in export prices is likely to boost the balance of trade in the first quarter, as Australia’s trade surplus for the month of February was the second highest on record.

However, the negative effect on coal exports from Cyclone Debbie in late March, combined with a significant drop in iron ore prices during March and April could weigh on the surplus in the June quarter.

On the imports side, higher fuel prices contributed to the small increase in the March quarter.

“Mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials rose 9.2% driven by Petroleum, petroleum products and related materials (+9.7%). Through the year, Petroleum, petroleum products and related materials rose 40.4%, the largest annual growth since September quarter 2008”, the ABS said.

“Offsetting these rises were small falls, predominately driven by the exchange rate”. Machinery and transport equipment fell 0.9% driven by Road vehicles (-1.0%), impacted by the appreciation of the Australian dollar relative to the Euro and the Yen”.

“Gold, non-monetary fell 1.0%, as gold prices continued their modest decline following the December quarter 2016”.

This table from the ABS shows the price movements from each group during the March quarter:

Source:ABS

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