EXPORTS to China soared to a record $5.7 billion in November, with the resources boom delivering big gains in major export markets.
Sales to China were 74 per cent higher than a year ago, with increases in both prices and volumes sold.
Total resource exports totalled $13bn in the month, which was 55 per cent higher than a year ago but still short of the $15bn peak hit in October 2008, just before the global financial crisis slashed world trade.
Exports are expected to take a hit last month and this, with coal exports, which normally provide 15 per cent of total overseas sales, facing serious disruption from the floods.
ANZ analyst Andrew McManus said it was possible the trade balance could be pushed back into deficit this month.
“By early January, we estimate that around 75 per cent of Queensland’s coking coal production had stopped,” he said.
However, the disruption is expected to be short-lived, with resource exports reaching new peaks in the June quarter, buoyed by stronger prices and new volume.
There was early evidence of disruption in the coalfields in November, with exports falling 5 per cent in the month, although exports of iron ore and other minerals remained strong.
The rural revival is also supporting Australia’s exports, with November sales of $2.4bn marking a 20.6 per cent rise from a year ago.
Exports of wool rose 11 per cent while meat sales were up 6 per cent. This offset a 10 per cent fall in wheat shipments.
The strength of commodity exports is taking its toll on the manufacturing sector, which is struggling under the weight of a high dollar. Sales of manufactured goods fell to $2.3bn in November, 2.1 per cent down in the month and almost 25 per cent below the peak reached before the GFC.
Exports of motor vehicles are down by 55 per cent.
Imports grew in November, mainly as a result of the importing of a several aircraft and higher prices for some of Australia’s commodity imports, including oil. Imports of consumer goods rose only 1 per cent.
The high value of the dollar is making imported consumer goods cheaper, but household caution is holding back spending.
The resource boom is increasing the concentration of Australia’s trade in Asia. CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian noted that over the past 12 months, Australia’s trade surplus with China had reached $17bn. “This is a phenomenal result, given that just under two years ago that trade surplus was close to zero,” he said.
Australia’s trade surplus with India has also grown, reaching $14.4bn over the 12 months to November.
Exports to Japan, long Australia’s principal market, have recovered as iron ore and coal prices have risen, to $3.9bn in November.
Sales to the US have fallen sharply over the past two years but imports have been boosted by the falling US dollar, with the deficit hitting a record $13.5bn in the last year.