According to the CBR, the trade surplus in February was down slightly from January, at USD 19.8bn. On the back of higher oil prices, exports were up 12% MoM and 14.7% YoY to USD 45bn. Imports increased by a third from January, and by 15.6% vs. February 2011, to USD 25.2bn.
Although the February surplus was slightly less than in the two previous months, as we expected it is still strong. On the one hand, exports were supported by higher oil prices (in February, the Urals average was USD 119/bbl), while on the other the growth in imports can be attributed to robust consumption and RUB strengthening during the reported period.
The preliminary data for 1Q12 implies that the trade surplus hit a new record in March, increasing to USD 21.1bn on the back of the weaker growth in imports (5.7% YoY) and a stable increase in exports (13.5% YoY). The decelerating growth in merchandise imports last month might be of concern and could partly be due to RUB’s performance and the base effect that month (imports increased a chunky 43% YoY on average in 1H11). We think that the strong capital outflows pose a downside risk to RUB.
Taking into account that the CBR bought USD 4.3bn on the FX market last month (vs. USD 2.8bn in February) and the trade balance in March was strong, we expect capital outflows to moderate slightly from February’s level.