JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is expected to post a narrower trade surplus in March, with exports and imports seen contracting as the coronavirus pandemic choked global trade, a Reuters poll showed on Tuesday.
The median forecast of 14 analysts in the poll was for Southeast Asia’s largest economy to post a $760 million trade surplus in March, about a third of February’s surprise $2.34 billion surplus.
Underlining the difficulty in making predictions, the range of forecast by the analysts was wide, with the lowest at a deficit of $320 million and the highest a surplus of $3.36 billion.
“Trade figures may swing extensively these coming months due to the pandemic, with import retrenchment exceeding export slowdown at this first stage,” said Wisnu Wardana, an economist with Bank Danamon.
Exports in March were seen dropping 6.73% annually due to a slump in demand from countries affected by the pandemic, which pushed nations to enforce shutdowns.
This could be the steepest decline since August 2019, compared with an 11% jump in February shipments, when Indonesia managed to sell more vegetable oils, gold, auto parts and textile products, including face masks, before the virus outbreak worsened across the globe.
March imports were expected to drop 7.88% on-year, accelerating from February’s contraction pace, driven by plunging oil prices and weakening domestic demand.
State oil and gas company Pertamina has reduced its imports as fuel demand dropped due to social restrictions and was in talks to defer this month’s imports.
Known coronavirus cases in Indonesia jumped to 4,557, as of Monday, with 399 deaths – the highest fatalities in East Asia outside China.
The Greater Jakarta area, home to some 30 million people, are under large-scale mobility restrictions, while other places across the archipelago are also exercising some form of physical distancing measures.
Authorities have predicted Indonesia’s economic growth would weaken significantly in 2020 to 2.3%, from 5% in 2019.
(Polling by Tabita Diela in Jakarta, Khusboo Mittal and Shaloo Shrivastava in Bengaluru; Editing by Gayatri Suroyo and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)