A loading crane straddles a freight rail track at Transnet’s container handling terminal at City Deep inland port in Johannesburg. Picture: BLOOMBERG
A loading crane straddles a freight rail track at Transnet’s container handling terminal at City Deep inland port in Johannesburg. Picture: BLOOMBERG

THE trade balance recorded a R17.9bn shortfall in January after a R7.6bn surplus in December, South African Revenue Service (SARS) data showed on Monday.

January is traditionally a high-deficit month as companies import more to prepare for the year.

While at first glance the numbers may be negative, an in-depth assessment shows some improvement is occurring. Although the R17.9bn deficit was worse than the consensus forecast of R12.9bn, it was still much lower than the R23.4bn shortfall recorded in January last year.

Exports last month were also 5.4% higher than those recorded in January last year while imports were 2.1% less than those recorded in January last year.

Trade data are an important indicator of the volume of goods a country buys from the rest of the world compared with the volume of goods it sells globally.

The R17.9bn deficit was due to exports of R71.5bn and imports of R89.4bn, indicating the import-intensity of the local economy.

Exports fell from December 2015 to January 2016 by R16.6bn, or 18.8%, while imports were up R8.9bn, or 11%.

Exports of precious metals and stones, vehicles and transport equipment, and chemical products fell during the month.

Imports of mineral products and vehicles fell, while those of base metals, machinery and equipment components increased.