Australia's trade surplus fell more than expected in March -- and could drag on GDP

Photo: Cameron Spencer/ Getty Images.

Australia’s trade surplus fell more than expected in March, potentially hurting first-quarter economic growth.

The trade surplus stood at $3.1 billion compared with a revised $3.7 billion in February and expectations for $3.3 billion, government statistics showed.

Export values lifted 2.4%, driven by higher commodity prices and expanded services exports, while import values rebounded sharply by 4.6%.

“Over the last year, higher commodity prices were the main driver of booming export values delivering a run of record trade surplus,” UBS economists led by George Tharenou said in an investor note.

“Nonetheless, at face value, the trade data still implies a large net export drag on Q1 real GDP.”

This table from the ABS shows the March trade surplus

UBS expects the economy to expand 0.5% in the first quarter from the preceding three months. First quarter economic growth data is due to be released June 7.

The economists added recent weather disruptions would hurt export volumes in the second quarter pulling down net exports and real GDP growth.

Cyclone Debbie disrupted rail infrastructure and slowed shipments of coal from Queensland and New South Wales in March. UBS estimates the disruption to reduce net exports by $2 billion in the coming months.

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