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Imports slowdown ahead should help to correct external imbalances

Andrés Pérez M. & Vittorio Peretti


Despite weak copper exports and solid energy imports, falling consumer and capital goods imports led to a small trade surplus in November. A USD 285 million trade surplus was registered in November, outperforming our USD 500 million deficit call, but still well below the USD 836 million surplus register in November last year. Exports continue to contract, falling by 8.4% YoY mainly dragged by lower copper sales (-28% YoY), while the upside pull from manufacturing exports softened to 2.6% YoY (16% in October; 26%). Total imports contracted 2.1% YoY during November (-13.3% previously), with consumer goods imports shrinking 21% YoY and capital goods fell by a nearly double-digit rate (in line with our view that the recent upbeat investment dynamics would be transitory). Amid still high global oil prices, energy imports rose by 55% YoY (13% in October). Overall, the 12-month rolling trade surplus sits at USD 1.4 billion (USD 1.1 billion as of September), well below the USD 10.5 billion during 2021 and USD 19.0 billion in 2020. At the margin, our seasonal adjustment shows a trade surplus of USD 3.4 billion in the quarter (annualized; USD 1.2 billion surplus in 3Q22) as imports weaken.

In the quarter ending in November, exports fell by 3.9% YoY (-0.5% in 3Q22). Total mining exports fell 12.3% YoY (similar to in 3Q) with copper sales falling 24.5% (-25% in 3Q). Weak copper exports are being partly offset by upbeat lithium exports (totaling USD 7 billion, up from the USD 0.8 billion in the same period last year). Sequentially, exports decreased 12.4% qoq/saar (-11.4% in 3Q).

​​​​​​Imports are losing momentum at the margin, in line with the consumption normalization. Imports decreased 2.5% YoY during the quarter ending in November, the first negative print since the quarter ending in January 2021. Consumer goods imports dropped 19.7% (4% drop in 3Q), with durable goods imports shrinking 33%. Capital goods imports fell 1.3% YoY, reverting positive figures from previous months (+8% in 3Q). At the margin, imports keep losing momentum, falling 29% qoq/saar (down 23% in 3Q). Excluding energy, imports fell 22% qoq/saar (-28% in 3Q).

The expected downturn in consumption and weaker investment amid retreating oil prices would support a gradual CAD correction going forward. However, weak copper exports would prevent a swifter correction. Following a large 3Q surprise, the CAD will end above our 7.7% of GDP call for this year (likely closer to 9%), while converging to a more sustainable rates (around 4%) next year.

Andrés Pérez M.

Vittorio Peretti