On Tuesday Germany announced a new record trade surplus for 2015 while the US, UK and France posted another year of trade deficits. China reported a surplus last month and Japan reported its fifth straight deficit despite plunging oil prices.

 

According to World Bank data, Germany has achieved a combined goods and services surplus every year since 1992; the UK has reported a trade deficit every year since 1997 and France has posted a combined deficit every year since 2004. The United States has been running consistent trade deficits since 1976.

Remarkably, Germany has not posted an annual goods trade deficit in any year since 1951 — see Destatis chart below.

Destatis, the federal statistics office, reported Tuesday that the German foreign trade balance showed a surplus of €247.8bn in 2015, which was the highest value ever recorded. It exceeded the previous year's peak of €213.6bn. In 2013, the surplus of the foreign trade balance had been €197.6bn.

According to provisional data from the Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank, the current account of the balance of payments showed a surplus of €249.1bn in 2015, which takes into account the balances of trade in goods including supplementary trade items (+€261.2bn), services (-€37.2bn), primary income (+€65.2bn) and secondary income (-€40.2bn). In 2014, the German current account showed a surplus of €212.1bn.

German exports increased by 6.4% and imports by 4.2% in 2015 compared with 2014. In 2015, export and import levels were higher than the previous all-time highs recorded in 2014.

Both exports and imports were down 1.6% in December from November 2015 while German industrial output fell in the month at the steepest rate in 16 months and exports also dropped unexpectedly, suggesting Europe's largest economy lost momentum at the end of 2015 and may struggle this year.

The Office for National Statistics reported Tuesday that the UK’s annual trade deficit reached £34.7bn in 2015; a widening of £0.3bn from 2014. Over the same period, the goods deficit widened by £1.9bn to £125.0bn.

The widening was partially offset by an increase in the services surplus, which rose by £1.5bn to £90.3bn.

In 2015, total trade exports decreased by £1.0bn to £512.4bn. There was a £8.1bn fall in exports of goods, which was partially offset by a £7.1bn rise in exports of services. Total imports dipped by £0.7bn to £547.2bn over the same period; imports of goods fell by £6.2bn and was almost entirely offset by a £5.5bn increase in imports of services.

The UK's main goods trade surpluses were with the US, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. Ireland is the fifth biggest market for UK goods. 

The Office for National Statistics also warned that the latest figures would have a negative impact on its second estimate of fourth-quarter economic growth due on 25 February.

Europe's export stars: Ireland and UK as laggards Part 2

Germany, trade surplus, partners, tarde 2015

France's trade deficit dipped in 2015 to the lowest since 2009 mainly due the drop in the price of oil imports, data issued by customs office showed on Friday.

The total trade deficit was €45.7bn, down from €58.3bn in 2014. Exports advanced 4.3% and imports rose by 1.2%.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister, said last month that France likely doubled its arms exports in 2015 to €16bn, thanks in part to sales of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale combat jet to Egypt and Qatar.

Coe-Rexecode, the French think-tank, reported that the hourly cost of labour in manufacturing is now lower in France than in Germany (€37.3 against €39.1), while these levels were comparable in 2012. "In all market sectors, however, the hourly cost of the French work remains significantly higher (+6%) at the German cost," it said.

The past falls in the value of the euro has benefited exports but the think-tank says that its 2015 survey of European importers addresses their perception of the positioning of the French capital goods and intermediate goods relative to their 9 main competitors. It shows that the French capital goods globally continue to suffer from high prices. The few improvements in non-price criteria were not sufficient to restore the balance in value.

The US trade deficit grew slightly in 2015 as exports declined amid a slowing global economy, government data showed Friday.

In 2015 the trade gap widened 4.6% from a year ago to $531.5bn as the drop in exports was greater than the dip in imports, the Commerce Department said.

Last month we reported that China posted a trade surplus of US$562bn in 2015.

Also in January, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Japan posted a trade deficit in 2015 for the fifth straight year, but the deficit shrank 77.9% from 2014 to ¥2.83tn yen ($23.9bn), due mainly to a sharp drop in imports amid lower crude oil prices, the government said.

The value of exports rose 3.5% to ¥75.63tn, due partly to increased car exports to the United States, while that of imports fell 8.7% to ¥78.46tn, the finance ministry said.

Crude oil imports plunged 41.0% as average oil prices dropped 47.4% from the previous year to $55.0 per barrel. Imports of liquefied natural gas dipped 29.5%.