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Correction of external imbalances unfolded swiftly during 2023.
2024/01/08 | Andrés Pérez M., Vittorio Peretti & Ignacio Martinez Labra

A trade surplus of USD 1.7 billion was registered in December, below the Bloomberg median of USD 1.9 billion, but above our USD 1.5 billion call. The annual trade balance reached a surplus of USD 15.5 billion, significantly up from the USD 3.8 billion in 2022, as the correction of external imbalances unfolded swiftly during 2023. Total exports fell 13.9% YoY (-4% in November), with double-digit drops in all divisions (Mining: -15.2%; Agriculture: -16.5%; Industrial: -10.9%). The mining contraction was led by copper, falling by 8.1% (+3.8% in November), along with another nosedive in lithium sales (-63%; -46% in November). Meanwhile, total imports contracted 12.6% YoY (-15.4% in November), with declines across all divisions including consumer goods (-10% YoY), capital imports (-23%), and energy (-21%), reflecting the domestic demand weakness.



Overall weakness in 4Q performance. Exports contracted 7.7% YoY in 4Q23 (-6.7% in 3Q23), with mining dropping 9.6% (-6.1% in 3Q) as copper (-4.6%) and lithium (-43%) continue to drag the division. Manufacturing exports fell by 3.7% (-7.8% in 3Q23). Sequentially, exports decreased 8.2% QoQ/saar (-1.7% in the quarter ending in November). On the other hand, total imports contracted 8.9% during the quarter (-18% in 3Q23). Consumer goods imports fell by 9.7%, falling less than the 19.4% drop in 3Q23. Meanwhile, capital goods imports contracted 17.2%, continuing its pessimistic behavior from previous quarters (-12.9% in 3Q23; -8.9% in 2Q23). At the margin, imports fell 5.3% qoq/saar (-4% in November). 


A higher than expected trade surplus suggests that the 2023 current account deficit may be lower than our 3.6% of GDP estimate (from 9.0% 2022), and 3.8% for 2024.