A trade surplus of USD 2.9 billion was registered in March, significantly higher than the USD 0.3 billion surplus of last year. The March recording was above both the Bloomberg market consensus of USD 2.4 billion but closer to our USD 2.7 billion call. Exports increased 13.1% YoY in March (15.2% previously), with mining (+21.9% YoY) lifting exports. Copper exports rose 9.9%, while lithium sales continued to play a key role (accounting for 16% of total mining sales during the month; 14% in 2022; 2% in 2021). On the other hand, total imports dropped 17.3% YoY (14.9% fall in February), dragged down by consumer (40.7% fall) and capital goods (19.3% contraction), in line with the domestic demand normalization underway. During the first quarter of 2023, a large USD 7.5 billion trade surplus was registered, USD 6.4 billion larger than in 1Q22, supporting a swift CAD correction this year. Overall, the 12-month rolling trade surplus rose to USD 10.2 billion, from USD 3.8 billion in 2022. At the margin, our seasonal adjustment shows the trade surplus rising to USD 26.8 billion in the quarter (annualized; USD 13.5 billion surplus in 4Q22 and USD 4.3 billion in 3Q22).
Widespread export growth recorded during the first quarter of the year. Exports increased 10.7% in 1Q23 (1.9% fall in 4Q22). Total mining exports rose 8.4% (4% down in 4Q22), with copper sales contracting 3.9%, reducing its drag from previous periods (-14.6% in 4Q22). Lithium exports continue to more than double over twelve months, totaling around USD 2.3 billion in the quarter, up from the USD 0.9 billion in the same period last year. Manufacturing exports rose 12.3% (2.8% in 4Q22), lifted by chemicals. Sequentially, exports increased 36% qoq/saar (-0.1% in 4Q22).
Domestic demand adjustment and milder energy pull behind weakening imports. Imports contracted 16.2% during 1Q23 (down 11.4% in 4Q22). Consumer goods imports fell 32.3% (26% down in 4Q), with durable goods imports falling 36%. Capital goods imports fell 11% YoY (8.8% fall in 4Q22). Imports of mining and construction machinery shrunk 0.9%, after a 7% drop in 4Q22, suggesting investment dynamics remain weak. Meanwhile, energy imports increased a mild 2%, moderating from the 23% rise in 4Q22 as global oil price adjust down. At the margin, imports fell 23% qoq/saar (-33% in 4Q22). Excluding energy, imports fell 20% qoq/saar (29% drop in 4Q).
Elevated copper prices, lower global transportation fees and a significant trade surplus during 1Q23 point to a swift fall of the CAD this year to 3.8% of GDP, from 9.0% last year.
Andrés Pérez M.
Ignacio Martinez Labra