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South Africa posts trade surplus as car exports surge

South African trade swung back to a surplus in February thanks to a leap in car exports, official data showed on Monday.

The $163-million (1.72-billion-rand) surplus was driven by a 7.9-percent increase in exports, which were pushed by the car manufacturing, machinery and electronics sectors, according to the South African Revenue Service.

Exports of vehicles rose nearly 50 percent as factories — now back in production after a punishing strike at the end of 2013 — were able to take advantage of the weak rand.

The country had reported a $1.6 billion trade deficit in January.

A drop in imports of electronics, mineral and chemical products and vegetables also contributed to the February surplus.

The latest data comes as the central bank lowered its outlook for growth of gross domestic product GDP this year to 2.6 percent from 2.8 percent — a rate that compares poorly with South Africa’s continental peers.

In November, South Africa, with Africa’s biggest economy, achieved its first surplus for almost two years, following a change in the way the data were calculated.