British exports bounce back

Julian Harris
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BRITISH exports shot up by 5.4 per cent to a record value of £25.1bn in January, helping to narrow the UK’s overall trade gap to £3bn.

The deficit fell from £5.5bn in December, when severe winter snow and changes in aircraft import taxes resulted in a record high deficit -- £9.7bn -- in visible goods.

The visible goods deficit dropped to £7.1bn at the start of this year, rebounding from December’s slump, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed yesterday.

“The marked improvement in the trade gap is good news for the rebalancing story, particularly with exports of goods picking up strongly which tallies with the strong performance of the manufacturing sector,” said Hetal Mehta of Daiwa Capital.

“If this trend continues, it is likely that net trade will make a positive contribution to GDP growth,” she added.

The official figures mirror positive results from recent business surveys. February’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI) showed visible exports “registering one of the strongest expansions since data were first available in 1996,” according to Markit, which undertakes the survey.

“Plus, the export orders balance in the February CBI industrial trends survey was at a 15-year high,” added Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight.

A survey of British exporters by Travelex, released yesterday, showed 74 per cent were confident in current trading conditions.

However, the UK’s trade surplus on services -- unaffected by weather conditions or the one-off fluctuation in aircraft imports -- slipped slightly in January, to £4.1bn, from £4.2bn in December.