Indonesia's trade deficit in November reaches widest since July 2013

  • The deficit in November was $2.05 billion, bigger than October's revised deficit of $1.77 billion and the biggest trade gap since July 2013, according to Refinitiv data.
  • Southeast Asia's largest economy has been struggling to contain imports in recent months.
  • Some measures, including higher tariffs, have been imposed to curb imports, in a bid to reduce the trade gap and support the rupiah.
An employee assembles a BMW AG X3 sport utility vehicles (SUV) on the production line at a PT Gaya Motor plant in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
Dimas Ardian | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An employee assembles a BMW AG X3 sport utility vehicles (SUV) on the production line at a PT Gaya Motor plant in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Indonesia posted its widest monthly trade deficit in over five years in November as exports, especially that of palm oil and pulp, slumped, data from the statistics bureau showed on Monday.

The deficit in November was $2.05 billion, larger than October's revised deficit of $1.77 billion and the biggest trade gap since July 2013, according to Refinitiv data. A Reuters poll had expected a deficit of $830 million.

The rupiah weakened slightly after the trade data to 14,620 a dollar at 0545 GMT, from 14,600 before the announcement.

Exports surprisingly fell 3.28 percent in November from a year earlier to $14.83 billion, the worst monthly performance since June 2017. The poll's median was for a 3.95 percent increase for exports.

A decline in overseas sales of a range of products, such as palm oil, jewellery, pulp and paper and crude oil, was the main reason for the drop, Suhariyanto, the statistics bureau head said in a news conference.

Export revenues from vegetable oils, including palm and coconut oil, fell nearly 19 percent in November from a year earlier due to weak prices, he said.

November imports stood at $16.88 billion, up 11.68 percent from a year earlier, topping the poll's 10.50 percent estimate, but down from the nearly 24 percent growth in October.

Southeast Asia's largest economy has been struggling to contain imports in recent months. Some measures, including higher tariffs, have been imposed to curb imports.

Authorities have also sped up negotiations for free trade deals in order to gain better access for exports, in a bid to reduce the trade gap and support the rupiah.

Bank Indonesia has also hiked interest rates six times since May to try to attract portfolio investment needed to fund the widening current account deficit.

Fakhrul Fulvian, economist at Trimegah Sekuritas, said the worse-than-expected trade deficit would "lower the expectation of improving current account balance" in the fourth quarter.

But, he argued, BI would not have to raise rates again because it already did in November.

Maybank Indonesia economist Myrdal Gunarto agreed.

"The movement of the exchange rate in domestic market remains manageable and the trade deficit was supported by returning foreign inflows," Gunarto said. "With that, we project BI will still maintain its policy interest rate at the current level."