The trade balance showed a deficit of USD 1.1 billion in March, from a surplus of USD 0.3 billion in the same month of 2022. The figure was in line with our forecast of a deficit of USD 0.9 billion, but worse than market expectations of a deficit of USD 0.2 billion according to the latest central bank survey. The 12-month rolling trade surplus narrowed to USD 4.2 billion in March, from USD 6.9 billion in December. At the margin, the seasonally-adjusted annualized balance showed a deficit of USD 3.4 billion in 1Q23 (from a surplus of USD 12.7 billion in 4Q22).
Exports contracted in 1Q23, affected by a severe drought. Total exports decreased by 17.9% yoy, after growing 8.0% in 4Q22. Agricultural exports, including manufactured agricultural products, plummeted by 26.1% yoy in the quarter (from growth of 6.7% yoy in 4Q22), led by lower exports of wheat, soy and corn due to the drought. Exports of other industrial products dropped by 4.3% yoy in 1Q23 (from a rise of 6.1% in 4Q22), mostly due to smaller shipments of biodiesel. On a sequential basis, exports fell by 47.0% qoq/saar in March, from an increase of 7.8% in the quarter ended in December 2022.
Imports also dropped in 1Q23, affected by controls. Total imports decreased by 4.4% yoy in the period (from -2.2% yoy in 4Q22), but rose by 20.5% qoq/saar in March (from a drop of 42.8% in 4Q22). Imports of consumer goods (including cars) dropped by 8.4% yoy in the period, while imports of capital goods and parts decreased by 2.2% yoy. Imports of intermediate goods fell by only 0.4% yoy in 1Q23, due to significant imports of soybeans to be processed locally and exported later.
The deficit in the energy trade balance showed a slight reduction in 1Q23. The last 12-month deficit fell to USD 4.7 billion in March, from USD 4.9 billion in December 2022. Energy imports decreased by 16.7% yoy in the first quarter of the year, while oil exports increased by 2.9% yoy in the period.
We recently revised our trade balance forecast to a surplus of USD 4.5 billion for this year (down from USD 7.0 billion in our previous scenario), reflecting the downward revision of grain production estimates amid the severe drought.
Juan Carlos Barboza