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Merchandise Trade Analysis – September 2015

Exports recovered some lost ground in September, after a large oil-price-fuelled decline the previous month. Merchandise exports rose 0.7 per cent to reach $44.5 billion, compared to a revised $44.2 billion for August.

Meanwhile, imports into Canada fell for the first time in four months, driven down by sharply lower sales of energy and metal products. As a result, about $1 billion was shaved off of Canada’s monthly trade deficit, which fell from a revised $2.7 billion in August to $1.7 billion in September.

Canadian Trade Summary
  Jul-15 Aug-15 Sep-15
Value ($billions)
Exports 45.5 44.2 44.5
Imports 46.1 46.8 46.2
Trade Balance -0.6 -2.7 -1.7
Percentage change
Export prices 1.4 -0.3 1.1
Export volumes 1.0 -0.6 0.8
Import prices 2.9 0.8 0.5
Import volumes -0.5 1.1 -2.1

In spite of September’s gains, Canadian exports are still down on the year so far through 2015. With three quarters of the year now in the books, exports are 1.3 per cent below the same period in 2014.

The good news, however, is that in the past four months, exports have been nearly identical to last year – even though crude oil prices are dramatically lower. Exporters of consumer products and manufactured goods have picked up the slack, aided by a more favourable exchange rate.

The main export growth drivers in September were higher-volume exports of consumer goods, along with a modest reprieve in energy prices. International sales of consumer goods were up 4.6 per cent for the month, led by processed food products and pharmaceuticals. For their part, energy-product exports were up 3.7 per cent – an increase driven by higher prices rather than export volumes.

Offsetting those gains was a surprising decline in the transportation equipment sector. Monthly exports of motor vehicles and parts fell by 3.7 per cent in September, while exports of aerospace products and other transportation equipment were down 1.7 per cent. In spite of those month-over-month declines, however, transportation equipment producers have enjoyed an excellent year so far in 2015. Exports of motor vehicles and parts are 14.4 per cent higher through September compared to the first nine months of 2014, while aerospace and other transportation equipment producers have seen an increase of nearly 19 per cent.

At the provincial level, export performance was mixed. Quebec was Canada’s runaway growth leader in September, posting a 14.1 per cent increase in just one month. Quebec exporters accounted for three fifths of Canada’s overall export growth that month. Manitoba and Saskatchewan exporters also enjoyed a good September, with gains in the range of 17.7 per cent and 12.2 per cent, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, both Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador saw exports fall precipitously. It has been a rough year for exporters from those two provinces – through nine months, Alberta’s exports are down nearly 22 per cent, while those from Newfoundland and Labrador are down nearly 33 per cent. 

Most of Canada’s export gains in September represented a recovery in sales to the European Union. Exports to EU countries had plunged by nearly 19 per cent in August, but most of that ground was recovered in September. Exports to the EU reached $3.2 billion, up from $2.7 billion in August, but still below July’s total of $3.4 billion. Meanwhile, exports to the US fell slightly (by 0.3 per cent), while shipments to China were down considerably – by 7.7 per cent in just one month.

For its part, the decline in imports into Canada in September was driven by commodities. Crude oil imports were down nearly 20 per cent, while imports of unwrought precious metals fell by 43 per cent. Meanwhile, imports of aircraft, electronics and agricultural products were higher.

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