Australia books record high trade surplus as coal and gas offset fall in iron ore

Australia's trade surplus has reached new highs. Picture: Shutterstock
Australia's trade surplus has reached new highs. Picture: Shutterstock

Soaring demand for coal and gas exports has fuelled a trade surplus boom, offsetting the dramatic fall in iron ore spot prices following a cool-off from China.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed the nation's trade surplus raced ahead to $15.1 billion, defying the market consensus which placed bets on a $10.1 billion surplus due to lower iron ore volumes.

Over August, the surplus rose by $2.4 billion, driven by a $1.3 billion rise in resource exports and a $550 million bump in earnings from rural goods shipped offshore.

Export earnings in total over the month rose 4.1 per cent, or $1.9 billion, bucking Westpac's forecast which predicted a 3.6 per cent downward swing as a result of the spot iron ore price sharply falling 25 per cent to $US160 a tonne.

Imports contracted by 1 per cent to $33.4 billion.

The latest round of international trade data marks the 44th straight month of surpluses, and is the third consecutive month where the figure has set a new record high.


"Looking through the month-to-month volatility, the key dynamic is that higher commodity prices have significantly boosted export earnings, driving the trade surplus," Westpac economist Andrew Hanlan said.

Coal exports over the month were up 13 per cent compared to July, while LNG recorded a month-to-month increase of 16 per cent.

ANZ economists Hayden Dimes and David Plank believe heightened global demand for energy will keep the trade surplus at elevated levels, but falling commodity prices will heighten risk levels.

"With the global demand for energy likely to remain strong for some time, the trade surplus will likely remain very elevated for a period," the ANZ economists said in a note.

"However, we think the risks are skewed towards a decline in the surplus from here, with AUD commodity prices falling 7.2 per cent in September and oil imports likely to lift as states like NSW reopen over the coming weeks."

The ABS said supply and disruptions impacting other major wheat-exporting nations had created "advantageous conditions" for domestic exporters.

In a note on Tuesday morning, ANZ also flagged thermal coal prices were at record highs amid major energy shortages in China.

It noted thermal coal loaded in the Port of Newcastle was hitting $US203 a tonne, coinciding with calls earlier in the week from China's Vice-Premier, Han Zheng, for Chinese energy companies to secure more supplies at any cost.

The shortage is partly being driven by major flooding and heavy rain affecting Shanxi, China's major coal-producing province.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan said expanding and diversifying Australia's export industry will underpin growth and assist the country's economic rebound.

"We are doing this by strengthening bilateral relationships, such as delivering free trade agreements with the UK and advancing negotiations with the EU and India, as well as supporting the multilateral, rules-based trading system," Mr Tehan said.

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This story Soaring exports prompt record high trade surplus first appeared on The Canberra Times.


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