Australia's posted a surprise trade surplus, for the first time in more than 2 years

Photo: STR/ AFP/ Getty Images.

Australia’s trade balance jumped back in the black in November, logging the first surplus seen since March 2014.

According to the ABS, a surplus of $1.243 billion was reported in seasonally adjusted terms, well above the $500 million deficit that had been expected by economists.

It was the largest surplus recorded since February 2014, and followed a run of 31 consecutive monthly deficit.

The ABS said that the value of exports jumped by 8% to $30.083 billion while import values were flat, coming in at $28.84 billion.

On the export side of the ledger, the value of non-rural goods surged by $2.322 billion, driven by a sharp increase in the value of Australia’s commodity exports.

Exports of coal, coke and briquettes jumped by $923 million, a mammoth increase of 26% on the levels of month earlier. Exports of metal ores and minerals — largely iron ore — also bounced, rising by $687 million, or 11%, from October.

Those gains were mirrored by exports of other mineral fuels, dominated by LNG, which increased by $130 million during the month.

Importantly, the lift in the value of these exports was driven by both higher prices and volumes.

Further contributing to the surge in export values, those for rural goods also soared, jumping by $588 million from a month earlier.

The ABS said exports of oil seeds and oleaginous fruits increased by $253 million, marginally topping those for vegetables and fruit which rose by a smaller $235 million.

Exports of meat and meat preparations also jumped, increasing by $172 million from October.

Partially offsetting those increases, the value of non-monetary gold exports fell by $305 million.

The value of services credits rose by $29 million.

On the other side of the trade ledger, the value of imports dipped by $40 million, led by declines in the value of capital and consumption goods of $137 million and $33 million respectively.

Those declines were partially offset by a bounce in the value of intermediate and other merchandise goods and non-monetary gold imports of $99 million and $17 million respectively.

The value of services imports rose by $15 million.

This table from the ABS shows the recent trend in Australia’s trade performance in seasonally adjusted terms.

Despite coming in well above expectations, there has been little to no reaction to the trade report, an outcome that may be due higher commodity prices, and it’s impact on Australia’s trade balance, being fully priced into financial markets.

Spot prices for many of Australia’s key commodity exports had been rallying hard since the middle of the year, suggesting that it was only a matter of when, not if, a trade surplus would be recorded.

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