The trade balance posted a surplus of USD 1.2 billion in March, better than our forecast and market consensus (as per Bloomberg) both at a deficit of 0.9 billion. The 12-month rolling trade balance stood at a deficit of USD 26.3 billion in March (from a deficit of USD 27.4 billion in February), supported by an improvement of the non-energy trade balance which stood at a surplus of USD 10.9 billion (from a surplus of USD 9.3 billion), while the energy deficit reached USD 37.2 billion (from a deficit of USD 36.7 billion). At the margin, using three-month annualized seasonally adjusted figures, the trade balance stood at a deficit of USD 13.5 billion in 1Q23 (from a deficit of USD 10.9 billion in 4Q22), with the energy trade deficit at USD 34.8 billion (from a deficit of USD 28.5 billion), while the non-energy trade balance posted a surplus of USD 21.2 billion (from a surplus of USD 17.6 billion).
Manufacturing exports expanded in March, with a positive momentum. Using seasonally adjusted series, manufacturing exports grew 4.9% mom, supported by both vehicle (13.1%) and non-vehicle (1.1%) exports. The quarter-over-quarter annualized growth rate (qoq/saar) for manufacturing exports stood at 5.8% in 1Q23 (from -7.6% in 4Q22).
Non-energy imports weakened in March. Also using seasonally adjusted figures, non-energy imports fell by 1.9% mom, dragged by intermediate (-2.8%) and capital (-2.4%) imports, while consumption imports expanded 4.5%. The qoq/saar growth rate of non-oil imports stood at 3.3% in 1Q23 (from -10.2% in 4Q22).
We expect a trade deficit of USD 20 billion for 2023. Manufacturing exports are likely to soften throughout the rest of the year given a weaker U.S. GDP, which will be mitigated by a slower growth of non-energy imports as internal demand softens.