The ABS said the fall in the trade surplus was primarily due to the strong fall in the non-rural goods sector with coal, coke and briquettes exports being the main factor, falling $679 million from November to $5.485 billion.
Falling energy prices aside from coal had the ABS’s other mineral fuels category slicing off $194 million of December’s export dollars in a 9% decline, while the metals component (excluding gold) had the next biggest dive in dollar terms of $134 million, 11% lower than November.
Specifically the ABS said in original terms, metallurgical coal exports decreased 16% for the month with prices down 4% and volumes down 13%.
The bureau said non-agglomerated iron ore exports actually increased 22% in December from a 25% increase in volumes despite a 2% fall in prices.
Coal represented some 26% of Australia’s export dollars for December while metal ores and minerals accounted for 20.84%.
With the new Japanese financial year approaching in April, various analysts have forecast coking coal contract prices to fall as much as 60% and thermal coal to fall as much as 40%.
Meanwhile, ANZ economist Alex Joiner told Australian Associated Press Australia’s trade balance could return to a deficit in possibly two or three months from the reduced demand in commodity exports.
The ABS noted increases in other non-rural sectors and in transport equipment exports partly offset the December fall in the trade surplus.