Bottom line: The overall trade data for January-March paint a picture of relative stability — but this is misleading. First, March saw a significant improvement, after the deficit widened sharply in January-February. Second, imports would have fallen had it not been for a massive increase in fuel imports. Third — and perhaps most important — high-tech exports are rising again, leading an overall recovery in exports. Finally, looking ahead, imports of plant and equipment continue to rise, as the development of the Leviathan field generates strong investment activity even as the construction of the new Intel plant reaches completion.
• The overall trade deficit (before seasonal adjustment) for January-March 2017 was $2.38bn., some 3% higher than the $2.31bn recorded in the same period last year.
• Both total imports and total exports posted small increases, of 2.6% and 2.5% respectively.
• However, fuel imports were a critical factor. The trade deficit net of ships, aircraft, diamonds and fuel was unchanged.
• Fuel imports soared by 64% or some $750m., reflecting higher prices but also, apparently, a greater volume of imports as well.
• Imports of cars, whether for business or private use, dropped sharply — by about 30% — compared to January-March 2016. This was expected, after the record level of car imports in December and for 2016 as a whole.
• As a result, imports of investment goods were split: while imports of cars plunged by 31%, and imports of planes and ships by 90%(!), imports of machinery & equipment rose over 23%.
• Consumer goods’ imports were similarly mixed: vehicle imports dropped 28%, while imports of consumer non-durables were up across the board.
• Manufacturing exports were almost unchanged from January-March 2016, thanks to strong gains in March, after weakness in January-February.
• High-tech exports rose almost 20% in March, thanks to an 81% jump in exports of air and spacecraft equipment and a 34% gain in pharmaceuticals.
• Double-digit gains in chemicals machinery led medium-high technology exports higher in March and in the first quarter as a whole.