Australia May trade surplus surges to record on energy boom

SYDNEY: Australia’s trade surplus ballooned to a record in May as exports of coal and liquefied natural gas surged amid a global scramble for energy, while strong domestic demand also drove a sharp rise in imports in a signal of economic resilience.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics out on Thursday showed the trade surplus shot to A$16 billion ($10.85 billion) in May, far above forecasts of A$10.7 billion.

April’s surplus was also revised up sharply to A$13.5 billion.

Exports jumped 9.5% to a record A$58.4 billion, led by gains in coal and LNG, while imports rose a sharp 5.8% to A$42.4 billion on higher petrol prices and demand for cars.

The lift in exports came from a mix of higher prices and volumes, suggesting trade would make a sizable contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) in the June quarter.

“The trade figures are consistent with net exports boosting Q2 GDP growth by as much as 2.0 percentage points, which would be one of the biggest contributions ever recorded,” said Marcel Thieliant, a senior economist at Capital Economics.

Such strength would add to the case for more interest rate rises from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), which hiked by 50 basis points to 1.35% earlier this week.

Markets are leaning toward another half-point increase in August and rates reaching at least 3.0% by the end of the year.

The value of coal exports alone surged 20% in May to A$14.7 billion, driven mainly by an increase in shipments of thermal coal to Vietnam, South Korea and Taiwan.

That combined with a sharp rise in the price of thermal coal as power companies sought more fuel, while the conflict in Ukraine caused disruptions to energy production across Europe.