It’s the Exchange Rate, Stupid

by Rebecca Wilder

It’s the Exchange Rate, Stupid

Eurostat released trade figures today, where the trade balance (exports less imports) surged €3.7 bn in the month of June (link to the .pdf release). The current figures imply a 2012 annualized trade balance of €66.9 bn, which is a meaningful boost to the -€7.4 bn deficit in 2011.

Eurostat breaks down the regional figures further into intra-Euro area (intra-EA) trade and extra-Euro area (extra-EA) trade.

Out of the EA 16, June intra-EA figures are available for just a few countries. Of those countries, the intra-EA trade balance improved in Portugal only, increasing by 0.26 ppt as a share of GDP on the month. From June 2011 to June 2012, where available, otherwise June 2011 to May 2012 (see Table above), the intra-EA rebalancing – i.e., roughly raising the balance of the net-importers and reducing the surplus of the net-exporters – has occurred to a certain degree. Net trade as a share of country GDP fell in Germany, and rose in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal. France and Ireland worsened their positions, while the Netherlands increased its large trade surplus of 25.1% of GDP over the year.

Except in Portugal and Greece, the intra-EA ‘rebalancing’ is either not necessarily required due to the relatively low imbalances, Spain or Germany, or moving in the wrong direction, France or the Netherlands.
June extra-EA figures are available for all countries. With the help of the real depreciation of the trade-weighted euro over the month, the extra-EA trade balance improved in June across all EA 16 countries except for Ireland, where it fell by 0.2 ppt of GDP. Over the year through June, all countries except the Netherlands saw an improvement in the trade balance as a share of GDP (see Table above).

Given the strong positive momentum in extra-EA net trade and the sluggish shift in intra-EA net trade, I conclude that it’s the depreciation of the real exchange – the 12.7% nominal depreciation of the euro against the dollar, for example, and/or falling relative price levels with extra-EA economies – that’s the primary driver of the improving trade balances in key periphery markets. With the strong exception of Portugal, where the intra-EA balance improved by 2.6 ppt of GDP over the year, the internal (infernal) devaluation of repressing wages through high unemployment has mixed results at best.

Rebecca Wilder

Note: I understand the imbalances lie in the financial accounts as well but this post is dedicated to trade only.
A point on the data: all numbers are seasonally adjusted.

cross posted with The Wilder View…Economonitors