India’s trade gap widened to $13.93 billion in March of 2021 from $9.98 billion a year earlier. The trade gap was however lower than the preliminary estimates of a higher $14.11bn. The key highlights of trade data were as follows:
· In March 2021 exports soared 60.3% to a record high of $34.5bn (up from $27.5bn in Feb’21), marginally higher than the preliminary estimate of $34bn.
· The exports surged ~60% yoy in March, driven mainly by $6bn rise in non-petroleum products’ export.
· Imports in March 2021 were $48.4bn ($40.5bn in Feb’21), led by non-petroleum imports of $38.5bn ($31.5bn in Feb’21). Imports surged 54% yoy
· Overall exports contracted by ~7.2% yoy in FY21, a reasonable figure given the difficult period for trade due to global lockdowns.
· Imports were down 17% yoy in FY21, mainly on account of 37% lower petroleum import due to lockdown and mobility restrictions.
· Trade deficit widened in March 2021 to $13.9bn ($12.6bn in February and $9.98bn in March 2020)
· Pharma exports maintained high growth in March, growing 49% yoy to $2.3bn, an all-time high.
· For FY21, India recorded current account surplus equal to 1% of GDP, due to lower imports and higher FPI flows. Overall BoP surplus in FY21 was $84bn.
I usually do not like to read too much into monthly macro data, unless there is a sustainable trend that could be reasonable extrapolated to future periods. However, I find that any decision based on headline trade data might be erroneous. It is important to factor in the details. For example, consider the following:
(a) While almost all items recorded positive growth, majority of the growth in imports and exports was driven by abnormal growth in a handful of items.
Out of ~$17bn yoy increase in exports, gold imports alone accounted for 50% delta or $8.3bn. Reportedly, gold imports touched 98.6 tons in Mar 2021 from 13 tons a year ago.
(b) Export’s growth was led by the growth Engineering products’ export, which accounted for almost one third of the export growth. It is estimated that large stimulus spending in trade partner countries led to higher engineering product growth. However largest export growth was recorded in Iron Ore, led by sharp rise in prices.
(c) With fresh mobility restrictions the trade momentum may slow down again. FPI flows may also taper this year reducing the CAD and BoP surplus. The consensus appears a CAD deficit of ~1% for FY22. INR may therefore
On the positive side, the advance economies are outpacing the emerging economies in growth recovery. This trend augurs well for Indian exports, especially engineering goods. A weaker INR (my view 74-74.50/USD average for FY22) might be an added advantage.