Euro Zone July Trade Surplus Smaller Than Expected

The euro zone's trade surplus was smaller than expected in July, unadjusted data showed on Monday, but exports continued to grow more quickly than imports.

The European Union's statistics office said the non-seasonally adjusted trade surplus in July for the 13 countries using the euro came to 4.6 billion euros ($6.4 billion), against economists' expectations of 6.8 billion.

Exports grew by 15% year-on-year in July while imports rose 12%, Eurostat said. That follows a 9% rise in exports in June and a 4% increase in imports.

But on a seasonally adjusted basis, the trade balance swung to a 0.6 billion euro deficit in July from a 4.4 billion surplus in June as exports fell 0.5% against the previous month and imports rose 3.6%.

The drop in seasonally adjusted exports "indicates that the strong euro could increasingly be weighing down on euro zone exporters, although it may also be partly a correction after a 1.8% jump in exports in June," said Howard Archer, chief European economist at Global Insight.

"A serious and growing concern for euro zone exporters is that they will face a double whammy of a strong euro and slowing global growth as a result of the financial market turmoil. On top of this, elevated oil prices threaten to exact an increasing toll on the euro zone's trade balance," he said.

The euro rose strongly against the dollar in July, reaching what were then all-time highs around $1.384. It has since gained even more as the prospect of an interest rate cut in the United States and possible rate rises from the European Central Bank make the single currency attractive to investors.

Eurostat unadjusted data showed that in the first six months of the year, the euro zone's trade deficit with Japan remained almost unchanged at around 12 billion euros and fell to 15.8 billion from 25.7 billion with Russia.

But with China, the euro zone's trade gap widened to 50.4 billion euros in the January-June period from 41.3 billion a year earlier.

The unadjusted data for the first half of the year also showed the value of energy imports fell 13% year-on-year.

The euro zone's June trade surplus was revised slightly lower to 7.6 billion euros from 7.8 billion euros.