Kiwifruit turns April into gold for exports

The latest monthly merchandise trade figures have bounced back to a big surplus after slumping in March.

Kiwifruit exports soared 82% to a new monthly high of $438 million, boosting overall export values to $5.05 billion, the second-best ever monthly total. (The highest was December 2017’s $5.5b.)

Stats NZ international statistics manager Tehseen Islam said kiwifruit returns rose in all the main markets of China, Europe and Japan.

“In April, the first month of the export season, the gold variety made up nearly three-quarters of the total value of kiwifruit exports,” he said.

The trade balance in April rose to a $263m surplus from a downward revised March deficit of $156m after accounting for imports.

In seasonally adjusted terms, exports jumped by 7% for the month. Meat exports rebounded 15% to $723m after a weak March, while a further pickup in dairy volumes and prices pushed values up 6.2% to $1.17b.

Westpac economist Michael Gordon says: “This was a little stronger than we or the market expected, though it only partly compensates for the much softer than expected March result.”

Rising fuel prices boosted the import side of the ledger; a 15% rise of $629m hit a new April high of $4.85b

“Oil imports remained high after a jump in March – stocks were built up ahead of a major maintenance shutdown of the Marsden Point refinery in May,” Mr Gordon adds.

Imports of plant and machinery continued their recent strength, while vehicles, parts, and accessories also rose after shipment disruptions in February.

The trade deficit for the year to April widened to $3.76b from $3.51b in April 2017. 

ASB's senior rural economist Nathan Penny says that deficit is expected to narrow.  

"In particular, we expect agricultural production to increase over the year and to boost export volumes, while export prices remain firm," he says. "At the same time, growth in import values is likely to be more subdued as economic growth remains soft over 2018."