New Zealand unexpectedly posted a trade surplus in January as exports rose more than forecast, aided by higher shipments of wood, dairy and fruit.

Statistics New Zealand said the country had a merchandise trade surplus of $8.1 million in January, compared with expectations for a $245.5 million deficit in a Reuters poll of economists. That's the first monthly surplus since May.

Exports rose 5.9 percent to $3.9 billion from the year earlier month, ahead of the $3.74 billion forecast by economists, while imports increased 7.2 percent to $3.89 billion, also higher than the $3.87 billion expected. The New Zealand dollar rose, recently trading at 67.23 US cents, from 66.99 cents immediately before the 10:45am release.

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Forestry exports led the gains in the month, increasing 22 percent to $244 million from the year earlier, while dairy exports advanced 3.7 percent to $1.22 billion and fruit exports jumped 32 percent to $81 million as cherry exports surged 51 percent to a record $55 million.

"This month's surplus was the first following seven deficits in a row," ASB Bank rural economist Nathan Penny said in a note. "The export value rise highlights the export sector strength outside of the struggling dairy sector. Of the 10 largest export categories, eight recorded higher values over the January 2016 year compared to the year to January 2015."

China remained the country's top export destination in January, with exports up 25 percent to $737 million, led by a rise in milk powder, butter, cheese, wool and cherries.

Exports to Australia, the second-largest market, advanced 11 percent to $581 million, driven by gains in food preparations for infant use, paper and paperboard, milk powder, butter and cheese.

However exports to the US, the third-largest market, slipped 9.5 percent to $451 million, as beef exports fell 33 percent in value and 23 percent in volume.

China also remained the top source for New Zealand's imports, with goods from the country increasing 21 percent to $878 million in the month, led by fertilisers, regular grade petroleum and phones.

The import gain in the month was led by an 8.5 percent increase in intermediate goods, aided by fertilisers, parts and accessories of capital goods, and automotive diesel. The rise was offset by a decline in crude oil imports, which slid 38 percent in value and 7.9 percent in volume, reflecting ongoing price declines.

On an annual basis, New Zealand had a merchandise trade deficit of $3.58 billion in the 12 months to the end of January, compared with expectations for a $3.84 billion deficit in the Reuters poll. It's little changed from December's annual $3.53 billion deficit but larger than the $1.42 billion deficit at the same period a year earlier, according to the statistics data.


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