Surplus to requirements
The trade balance swung $2.2 billion higher in January as exports surged +4.3 per cent and imports declined -2.4 per cent (following a big surge in December).
The net result was a seasonally adjusted surplus of $1.1 billion from a favourably revised deficit in the preceding month, easily beating market expectations.
Iron ore and coal export values were some way down on a year earlier, but there were a couple of shining lights being a +54 per cent monthly surge in gold exports, and LNG export values rising to a fresh record monthly high of $2.74 billion.
The trade services recovery seems to have lost momentum.
There will be a short-term boost for tourism in Queensland due attributable to the forthcoming Commonwealth Games.
However, a question mark hangs over the growth rate for international students going forward, and recent skilled 189 visa statistics may also ultimately point to a possible slowdown in the rate of net overseas migration (Source: Henry Sherrell, @parllibrary)
Value of exports losing momentum
Japan has been a disappointing importer of Australia's commodities in recent years, but is staging something of a fightback, while the reliance on China remains heavy.
At the state level Western Australia (+24 per cent) and Queensland (+25 per cent) have seen annual merchandise export values coming storming back over the past two years on the back of resurgent commodity prices and the LNG volumes ramp up.
Indeed, the LNG export boom from Gladstone combined with record Chinese tourism and international students, plus northern-bound migration from congested Melbourne and Sydney all bode well for south-east Queensland over the decade ahead.
Overall it was great to see the trade balance swing back into a significant surplus in January, albeit a seasonally adjusted result with a lot of moving parts.
Although there were some bright spots, it's hard to get too enthused as bulk commodity prices may struggle to carry the recovery further, and the services boost is losing momentum.
It looks for all the world as though the growth forecasts for 2018 were too optimistic (which many argued they were all along, to be fair).