[JAKARTA] Indonesia on Thursday reported a surprisingly big September trade surplus but one that's rooted in a persistent economic worry this year, tumbling imports.
The statistics bureau said September produced a trade surplus of US$1.02 billion, compared to the US$280 million one forecast in a Reuters poll.
Imports were down 25.95 per cent from a year earlier, the second biggest fall since 2009 and worse than the poll's 19.7 per cent forecast. The deepest contraction was in July when imports plunged more than 28 per cent.
Exports last month were 18 per cent below a year earlier, slightly worse than the poll forecast's 15.5 per cent. The September fall was the second biggest since 2012.
Analysts say this year's poor imports reflect weak investment growth and consumption. This year's weak rupiah has made imported goods more expensive. "Indonesia's trade surplus is improving due to weakening domestic demand, not strengthening external demand," ANZ said after the September data was released.
The rupiah did not move on the trade data, but it has been strengthening this month, including on Thursday morning when it surged 2.4 per cent to reach 13,300 against the dollar.
ANZ said the surging rupiah "may create policy space for Bank Indonesia to cut rates in coming months, but we would expect caution. These are volatile and uncertain times." The trade data came out hours before a central bank policy meeting where analysts say the benchmark rate will be left at 7.50 per cent.
Imports of capital goods in January-September have fallen 16.9 per cent on year, while those of raw materials were down 20.7 per cent.
Before the September data came out, DBS said declining imports of capital goods showed "a strong indication that investment growth remains weak in the economy." Southeast Asia's largest economy has post monthly trade surpluses since December.
The surplus in the first nine months reached US$7.13 billion. In the same period of 2014, Indonesia had a US$1.67 billion trade deficit.