South Africa records first current account surplus in 17 years

Container ships wait to load and offload goods in port during a 21-day nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cape Town, South Africa,

South Africa recorded its first current account surplus in 17 years in the first quarter of 2020 as the trade balance more than doubled, central bank data showed on Thursday.

The current account swung to a surplus of 1.3% of gross domestic product, or 69.7 billion rand ($4.12 billion), in January-March from a deficit of 1.3% of GDP or 68 billion rand in the previous three months. The last recorded surplus was in the first quarter of 2003.

The trade balance showed a wider surplus of 208 billion rand in the first quarter, versus a 102.5 billion rand surplus in the previous three months.

“With the domestic lockdown restrictions only effective as from late March, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on South Africa’s imports and exports were still limited in the first quarter of 2020,” the central bank said in a statement.

The current account is the part of a country’s balance of payments that shows transactions of goods and services with the rest of the world, as well as primary and secondary income.

South Africa shut down much of its economy at the end of March in one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns. That will have affected imports and exports at the start of the second quarter.

The lockdown has been partially eased to allow key sectors like mining to resume operations, but the economic outlook remains gloomy. The economy was already in recession before the coronavirus pandemic hit South Africa in March.

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