Canadian trade surplus shrinks

Canada's trade balance with the rest of the world shrank in January as the value of exports fell.
Container ships pass on the outer part of Halifax harbour near Herring Cove, N.S. in 2010. Canadian merchandise exports fell in January, shrinking the trade surplus to $2.9 billion. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Canada's trade surplus fell to $2.1 billion in January as the value of exports fell, down from $2.9 billion the month before.

However, it's the third consecutive monthly surplus.

Total exports fell by 2.3 per cent, while imports edged down 0.6 per cent. Both figures are measured in dollars —  as opposed to volume of goods — and that pushed down the figures.

Canadian exporters sent over $41 billion worth of goods outside of the country in January, but 2.2 per cent lower prices sent the total down.

U.S. buys more Canadian energy

Higher crude oil prices increased Canadian exports to the United States, up 0.3 per cent from December. Canada shipped $30.6 billion worth of crude to the U.S. during the month.

Canada's trade surplus with the U.S. increased to $6.1 billion in January, up from $5.9 billion the month before.

Exports to all other countries fell nine per cent as economic weakness in Europe hurt demand for Canadian goods. The trade deficit with the rest of the world rose to $4 billion from $3 billion the month before.

Meanwhile, Canadians bought $39.3 billion worth of goods from around the world, down 0.8 per cent from a month earlier.

Economist reaction

Robert Kavcic, an economist with BMO Capital Markets, said the declines outside the United States were "pretty well across the board," but concluded that the Canadian trade picture continued to show signs of improvement.

"The surge in U.S. auto sales looks to be helping the Canadian trade picture, with automotive product exports up 6.1 per cent in January and a massive 36 per cent since August. In fact, the trade balance with the U.S., at $6.1 billion, is now the highest since September 2008," Kavcic wrote in a research note.

Avery Shenfeld of CIBC World Market Economics said the January numbers were "roughly in line" with the consensus estimate but for the wrong reasons.

"Rather than the anticipated gains in imports, the trade downshift was driven by a 2.3 per cent decline in exports, although that was due to softer prices rather than a drop in volumes. Imports were also down on broad-based declines, also on softer prices," Shenfeld wrote.

He said the good news was that trade volumes were holding onto recent gains and that U.S. auto sales remained firm.

With files from The Canadian Press