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Philippines posts record trade deficit in May; imports surge

Philippines posts record trade deficit in May; imports surge

MANILA: The Philippines posted its biggest trade deficit since data became available, fuelled by a rapidly expanding economy. The currency slumped to its weakest level since 2006.

The trade gap widened to $2.8 billion (96 billion baht) in May, the Philippine Statistics Authority said in a statement Tuesday. That’s the highest since at least January 1980.

The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of nine economists was for a $1.5 billion (51 bilion baht) shortfall.

Exports rose 14% from a year ago to $5.5 billion (188 bilion baht) ; imports jumped 17% to $8.2 billion (288 bilion baht).

Import demand in the Philippines is surging as the government powers ahead with an ambitious infrastructure program, boosting economic growth to more than 6%, among the fastest in the world.

As the nation’s current account balance swings from a surplus to a deficit, that’s removing a key support for the currency and the government’s credit rating. With remittances also volatile, the peso has become Asia’s worst-performing currency this year and dropped to its lowest level against the dollar since 2006 on Tuesday.

“The deficit widening is something that’s really consistent with an economy that’s powering ahead and doing very well,” said Euben Paracuelles, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc in Singapore. “The deficit will probably stay large and that would imply more pressures on the currency, more depreciation pressure on the peso over that period.”

The bigger-than-expected trade deficit underscores that the currency’s underperformance this year “is a result of a confirmation of a more challenging current account,” Joey Cuyegkeng, ING Groep NV senior economist in Manila said in a note.

Electronics, led by semiconductors, remained the country’s top export product, increasing 18% in May from a year ago to $2.8 billion (96 billion baht).

The biggest increases in imports came from metal products, which climbed 44%, and transport equipment, which surged 38%.

The biggest growth in imports came from South Korea, Indonesia and Japan.