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Australia Trade Surplus Soars To A$3.681 Billion In December

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Australia posted a seasonally adjusted merchandise trade surplus of A$3.681 billion in December, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday.

That exceeded expectations for a surplus of A$2.225 billion and was up sharply from the A$1.925 billion surplus in November.

Exports were down A$634 million or 2.0 percent on month to A$37.924 billion.

Non-monetary gold fell A$1.034 billion (57 percent) and net exports of goods under merchanting fell A$1 million (3 percent).

Rural goods rose A$353 million (10 percent) and non-rural goods rose A$33 million. Services credits rose A$16 million.

Imports sank A$2.058 billion or 6.0 percent on month to A$34.302 billion.

Capital goods fell A$1.070 billion (15 percent), while intermediate and other merchandise goods fell A$717 million (6 percent) and consumption goods fell A$653 million (7 percent).

Non-monetary gold rose A$161 million (45 percent) and services debits rose A$222 million (3 percent).

Also on Tuesday:
• The ABS said that the total value of retail sales in Australia was down a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent on month in December. That missed expectations for a flat reading following the 0.4 percent increase in November.

By category, the following industries rose in December: Food retailing (0.2 percent), Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (0.3 percent), Other retailing (0.1 percent), Cafes restaurants and takeaway food services (0.1 percent), and Department stores (0.1 percent). Household goods retailing was relatively unchanged.

By region, Queensland (0.5 percent), Victoria (0.2 percent), Western Australia (0.3 percent), the Australian Capital Territory (0.3 percent), South Australia (0.1 percent), and Tasmania (0.1 percent) all saw an increase in sales. New South Wales (-0.1 percent), and the Northern Territory (-0.4 percent) both fell.

For the fourth quarter of 2018, retail sales added 0.1 percent - also shy of expectations for a gain of 0.5 percent and down from 0.2 percent in the three months prior.

• The Australian Industry Group said that the services sector in Australia fell sharply into contraction in January with a seasonally adjusted PMI score of 44.3. That's down significantly from 52.1 in December, and it falls well beneath the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

Individually, retail trade was the big culprit as sales, new orders and employment all plummeted. Input prices slowed but remained well in expansion territory.

Finance and insurance also contracted, as did wholesale trade and transport and storage. Business and property ticked slightly higher and continued to expand.

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