The seasonally adjusted merchandise trade balance returned a surplus of just E2.9 billion in February. This was comfortably short of January's marginally smaller revised E4.1 billion and the weakest outturn since June 2015.
The headline deterioration reflected a 2.0 percent monthly drop in exports together with a 1.3 percent increase in imports. For the former, this was the first decline since last September and was attributable to broad-based weakness amongst the major categories. Energy fell some 8.7 percent but even excluding this category exports were down 1.7 percent. Capital goods (minus 4.1 percent), intermediates (minus 0.7 percent) and consumer goods (minus 0.2 percent) all had a poor month.
The latest data put the average January/February surplus nearly 9 percent below the fourth quarter mean. This does not bode well for any meaningful contribution from total net exports to real GDP growth in the quarter just ended.
The merchandise trade balance measures the difference between imports and exports of goods. The level of the international trade balance, as well as changes in exports and imports, indicate trends in foreign trade and can offer a guide to an economy's competitiveness.
Changes in the level of imports and exports, along with the difference between the two (the trade balance) are a valuable gauge of economic trends here and abroad. While these trade figures can directly impact all financial markets, they primarily affect currency values in foreign exchange markets.
Separate reports are published for external and internal EU trade. The extra-EU trade data are compiled on the basis of customs declarations with non-EU countries. The intra-EU trade data (Intrastat) are derived from surveys and provide statistics on trade between Italy and other EU member states. The data are available monthly. World trade data are available within one month after the reference month while intra-EU trade data are available within 7 weeks after the reference month.