A trade surplus of USD 1.0 billion was registered in September, in line with both the Bloomberg market consensus and our call, as contractionary monetary policy is supporting a narrowing of external imbalances. The surplus in September was once more a significant swing from the USD 0.2 billion deficit one year earlier, despite contracting exports. Total exports fell by 6.5% YoY (+0.4% drop in August), as rising copper exports (+6.6% YoY), were offset by falling lithium (-54% YoY to USD 285 million, the lowest level since January 2022), and weaker agriculture and manufacturing exports. Meanwhile, total imports continued to contract at double digit rates. Imports dropped 20.6% YoY (18& fall in August). Durable consumer goods fell a milder 10.7% (-18% previously), as the consumption adjustment finalizes, but the drop of imports of capital goods deepened to 20.8% (14% fall previously), dragged by transportation and cargo vehicles. Energy imports continue to fall at around 33% contraction (higher recent oil prices will likely lessen the decline in coming months). Overall, a trade surplus of USD 2.5 billion was registered in 3Q23 (USD 1.0 billion deficit in 3Q22). The 12-month rolling trade surplus rose to USD 17.2 billion, from USD 13.7 billion as of June and USD 3.8 billion in 2022. At the margin, our seasonal adjustment shows the trade surplus at an elevated USD 17.3 billion in the quarter (annualized; USD 12 billion surplus in 2Q23).
Copper growth in the quarter was offset by weakness elsewhere. Exports contracted 4.5% in the third quarter of the year (6% down in 2Q; +10.6% in 1Q23). Total mining dropped 2.5% (6.5% fall in 2Q; +6.8% in 1Q23) despite copper rising 4.1% (similar to in 2Q23), as the lithium drag remained notable (contracting 41%). Manufacturing exports fell 7.7% (5.1% drop in 2Q; +12.7% in 1Q23), dragged by weaker chemical sales. Sequentially, exports increased 10.5% qoq/saar (-38% in 2Q23), boosted by copper.
The consumer import drag is gradually easing. Imports contracted 18.5% during 3Q23 (20.2% drop in 2Q23). While the drag from consumer goods eased (-19.6% versus 26.2% drop in 2Q), a deeper energy import fall and softening capital goods imports supported a large total import contraction in the quarter. The capital goods decline suggests that investment should remain weak, while the consumer import drag will likely continue to moderate ahead. At the margin, imports fell 12% qoq/saar (+5% in 2Q23), amid weaker capital goods imports.
The adjustment in domestic demand and normalization of the service and income deficits are expected to support a correction of external imbalances. We expect a CAD of 3.6% of GDP (from 9.0% last year) and 3.8% next year. Rising global oil prices and the diminishing upside pull of lithium exports will slow the pace of the CAD correction in the coming quarters.