Export statistics suggest 'tentative' signs of recovery

Despite six per cent drop in exports from December to January, overall signals are good

Irish exports are expected to improve this year. Photograph: Getty Images

Irish exports are expected to improve this year. Photograph: Getty Images

Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 15:30

Irish exports rose by 4 per cent to €7.031 billion in the twelve months to January, driven by higher pharma-chem and agri-food exports. However the country’s trade surplus narrowed to €3.1 billion, from €3.4 billion the previous month, as exports recorded a decline of 6 per cent from December 2013 to January 2014.

Ireland’s export sector has been the main driver of economic growth in recent times, and Conall Mac Coille, economist with Davy Stockbrokers, says that the latest data provides “tentative evidence that the export sector is recovering”, noting that in the three months to January, nominal goods exports rose by 2.1 per cent on the year for the first positive growth rate since October 2012.

While weak global demand has hit Irish exports in the past couple of years, particularly on the merchandise goods side, Alan McQuaid, economist with Merrion Capital said that there are signs now that the world economy is starting to recover, “which augurs well for the export sector in 2014”.

“That said, demand in these countries was affected by the very poor weather conditions in the early part of 2014, but this should correct itself as the year goes on. Stronger global demand should to some degree offset the negative drag from the patents expiry issue on certain pharmaceutical products,” he said.

The main moves in the twelve months to January were seen in the exports of chemicals and related products (+6%) and food (+9%).

Total imports rose by 2 per cent year on year to € 4.53 billion, with sharp annual increases noted in food (+9%); mineral fuels (+28%) and chemicals (+7%). Imports of machinery and transport equipment dropped by 15 per cent.

The EU accounted for 54 per cent of total exports in January 2014. The USA was the main non-EU destination accounting for 23 per cent of total exports in January 2014. Exports to the EU are up by 2.2 per cent year on year.

“While the monthly performance of merchandise exports can be volatile, our expectation is that overall Irish exports to our main trading partners will see an improvement for the year as a whole, given the strengthening economic outlook for the EU and US,” Philip O’Sullivan, chief economist with Investec said.