Port Ngqura at Coega. Picture: SUPPLIED
Port Ngqura at Coega. Picture: SUPPLIED

SA’s trade balance came in worse than expected on Friday, with the surplus of R3.52bn for May coming amid a surge in imports and a slight contraction in exports, month-on-month.

The year-to-date deficit of R14.18bn compares with a surplus of R16.41bn at the same time last year. This is, however, the third consecutive monthly surplus, but is less than the May 2017 surplus of R7.89bn.

The Bloomberg consensus was for a surplus of R5.8bn, while Trading Economics forecast R5.9bn.

Exports year-to-date decreased 0.4% to R459.58bn, while imports jumped 6.4% to R473.76bn, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) reported on Friday.

The biggest month-on-month increase in exports was in vegetable products, rising 56% to R2.39bn, while this category also saw the largest increase in imports, at 135% to R1.7bn.

The surplus compares with a revised March surplus of R1.17bn. It was previously reported as R1.14bn.


While the surplus benefits the current account, many commentators say it points to depressed activity — borne out by the fact that both imports and exports have come under pressure, although by varying degrees.

FNB chief economist Mamello Matikinca had expected the surplus to be lower than forecast due to "persistent production weakness in the mining and manufacturing sectors".

SA has faced a series of disappointing economic data releases in recent months, with the South African Reserve Bank saying earlier on Friday that private-sector credit extension moderated to 4.6% in May year-on-year from 5.1%.