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Consumer imports in line with a gradual consumption recovery.
2024/02/07 | Andrés Pérez M., Vittorio Peretti & Ignacio Martinez Labra

A trade surplus of USD 2.6 billion was registered in January, above the Bloomberg median of USD 1.9 billion, and our USD 1.8 billion call. The January surplus was broadly in line with the print at the start of 2023. As a result, the rolling one-year trade balance remained at USD 15.5 billion; 4.6% of GDP). Mining and agriculture exports supported export growth of 2.7% YoY, the first annual increase since March 2023. Mining exports rose 10.8% YoY, rebounding from a double-digit drop in December, driven by copper sales (+17.5% YoY). Lithium exports fell by 31% YoY, contracting in annual terms for the tenth consecutive month. Dampening the export performance was a 14.6% drop in manufactured exports, primarily due to a halving of chemical exports. Meanwhile, total imports increased 3.7% YoY (-12.6% in December), with consumer goods purchases rising (5.1% YoY) for the first time since late 2022, in line with indications that the private consumption adjustment from unsustainable levels has concluded and is likely to proceed with a mild recovery this year as interest rates and inflation fall. The annual drop of capital goods imports eased to 2.5% (22.6% fall in December), supported by recovering imports of machinery (related to mining, construction and other sectors; +20.4% YoY), a positive development for investment dynamics ahead. 

Sequentially, imports improved in January but remained weak in the rolling-quarter. Exports contracted by a milder 2.0% QoQ/Saar (-6.4% in 4Q23), led by mining at the start of the year. On the other hand, total imports rose 2.3% MoM/SA, lifted by consumer and capital goods, but still contracted 13.1% during the quarter (-4.7% in 4Q23). 

The large trade surplus in 2023 likely supported a swift narrowing of the CAD from 9.0% in 2022 to 2.9% last year. With private consumption expected to post a mild recovery and oil prices to remain elevated, we expect some widening to 4.1% this year. Nevertheless, the strong trade surplus start to the year puts a downside bias to our call.