Export meat price fall confirmed, but temporary

A fall in merchandise export prices for meat products has been confirmed by Statistics New Zealand in its latest figures comparing the March 2012 quarter against December 2011. However, this is expected by some to be temporary and export prices should improve later this year.

Overall, merchandise export prices fell by 3.8 percent in the same quarter, reflecting a 5.5 percent appreciation of the New Zealand dollar (according to the Reserve Bank’s trade weighted average). Amongst the falls for major commodity groups, prices for meat products (especially lamb), which accounted for 12 percent of exports, were down by 3.6 percent in the quarter, while other price falls were recorded for dairy (-5.6 percent) and forestry (-4.2 percent) products.

New Zealand’s merchandise terms of trade (the ratio of export prices to import prices) fell by 2.3 percent in the March 2012 quarter when compared with December 2011 – the third consecutive quarterly decrease since the terms of trade peaked in the June 2011 quarter, Statistics NZ says.

Looking at the wider market implications, Westpac’s senior economist Anne Boniface says the  data broadly confirms Westpac’s understanding of the NZ economy and on its own won’t change the outlook for the Reserve Bank. “Nonetheless, export prospects are certainly dimming this year. But while acknowledging the near–term weakness in commodity prices and its impact on the NZ economy, we must keep the recent moves in perspective – the terms of trade remains 10 percent above its average levels of the last decade,” she says, adding that current weakness is expected to be cyclical rather than structural. “By the final quarter of this year, stimulatory policies by authorities in China should be starting to gain traction, boosting growth and demand for commodities. Consequently, we expect to see commodity prices stabilise and start to improve.”

Boniface remains firmly optimistic about prospects for New Zealand export prices over a longer horizon, she says.

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