New Zealand's trade surplus widened in March as Chinese demand for dairy products continued to soar, driving the monthly and annual export receipts to new records.
The trade surplus was $920 million in March, from a revised $793 million in February, and $732 million a year earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand. The annual trade balance was a surplus of $805 million, or 1.6 percent of exports. Economists polled by Reuters predicted a monthly surplus of $937 million and an annual surplus of $920 million.
Exports climbed 15 percent to $5.08 billion, for an annual increase of 8.5 percent to $50.07 billion. That was the first time New Zealand's international sales topped $5 billion in a month and $50 billion in year.
Milk powder, butter and cheese exports advanced 45 percent to $1.53 billion in March for an annual increase of 31 percent to $14.92 billion, while casein and caseinates gained 17 percent to $93 million for an annual lift of 7.5 percent to $988 million. Dairy products accounted for about 30 percent of all exports.
"While March tends to be the peak month for exports, this was also a record high in seasonally adjusted terms," Westpac Banking Corp senior economist Michael Gordon said in a note. "Dairy products were down 9 percent by volume, but there were increases in exports of meat, oil and machinery."
Meat and edible offal sales rose 12 percent to $731 million for a 4.1 percent annual gain to $5.5 billion, while exports of logs, wood and wood articles gained 14 percent to $385 million for an annual lift of 24 percent to $4.05 billion.
Imports rose 13 percent to $4.16 billion for an annual lift of 5.5 percent to $49.26 billion. The monthly figure included a one-off $216 million import of a drilling platform.
Exports to China jumped 31 percent to $1.13 billion in March for an annual gain of 51 percent to $11.19 billion, or 22 percent of all exports. Imports from China were up 14 percent to $550 million in the month for an annual gain of 7.9 percent to $8.37 billion.
Exports to Australia fell 1.5 percent to $2.17 billion in March for an annual decline of 7.3 percent to $9 billion, while US exports were up a monthly 4.5 percent to $476 million, slowing the yearly decline to 6.2 percent to $4.07 billion.