Andrés Pérez M., Vittorio Peretti & Ignacio Martinez Labra
Despite weak copper exports, falling consumer and capital goods imports led to a large trade surplus in January. The USD 2.6 billion trade surplus was broadly in line with the market consensus and our call, while above the USD 1.0 billion surplus registered in January last year. Exports posted annual nominal growth of 4.2%, the first increase since July last year, boosted by double-digit gains for shipments of manufactured and agro goods. Copper exports shrunk 9.8% (0.2% drop in December). Total imports contracted 16.3% YoY (-17.7% previously), with consumer goods imports shrinking 27.5% YoY and capital goods fell by nearly a double-digit rate (in line with our view that the recent upbeat investment dynamics would be transitory). Energy imports fell a mild 1.1% as the boost from global prices fades and domestic demand slows. Overall, the 12-month rolling trade surplus rose to USD 4.5 billion from USD 2.9 billion in 2022, but remains below the USD 10.5 billion during 2021 and USD 19.0 billion in 2020. However, at the margin, our seasonal adjustment shows a trade surplus surging to USD 14.9 billion in the quarter (annualized; USD 10.5 billion surplus in 4Q22 and USD 2.3 billion in 3Q22) as imports post a sustained weakening.
In the quarter ending in January, exports fell by 1.7% YoY (-3.9% in 4Q22). Total mining exports fell 7.9% YoY (8.9% down in 4Q22) with copper sales falling 20.9%. Weak copper exports are being partly offset by upbeat lithium exports (totaling USD 2.0 billion in the quarter, up from the USD 0.5 billion in the same period last year). Sequentially, exports increased 6.2% qoq/saar (-4.3% in 4Q22).
Imports are losing momentum at the margin, in line with the normalization of consumption. Imports decreased 12.2% YoY during the quarter ending in January (similar to the drop in 4Q22). Consumer goods imports fell 26.8% (25.6% down in 4Q), with durable goods imports shrinking 34.4%. Capital goods imports fell 8.8% YoY, the third consecutive decline after sustained growth since early 2021. At the margin, imports fell 33.9% qoq/saar (in line with the drop in 4Q22). Excluding energy, imports fell 30% qoq/saar (27% decline in 4Q).
Lower domestic demand, steady oil prices and falling shipping fees will support a moderation of the CAD during 2023 to around 4% of GDP (8.8% expected for 2022). The recent copper price rally could support an even swifter correction ahead.
Andrés Pérez M.
Ignacio Martinez Labra