Exports give a touch of attention | Economy

Exports give a touch of attention | Economy

The latest data on exports, according to Customs, indicate that in the fourth quarter of 2018 the weakness trend that had marked its evolution in the first three quarters of the year remained. After the good record in October, in November it returned to negative territory, both in nominal and real terms. If we average the exports registered in October and November (at constant prices), and compare it with the average of the third quarter, we have only a slight quarter-on-quarter growth of 0.1%.

In the whole of the January-November period, real exports were 0.3% higher than those made in the same period of 2017 (3.4% in nominal terms), a result that will not change much when the data of December. It is the lowest growth rate since 2009, and, for the first time since 2008, lower than the growth of international trade, which until October was advancing at an annual rate of 4%. It is also way below the advance of the imports of the countries that constitute our main export markets. In other words, the growth of exports was much lower than that which would correspond to their historical elasticities, either in relation to world trade or in relation to export markets, and this also taking into account the appreciation experienced by the euro.

Exports give a touch of attention

All this indicates that the slowdown of world trade, trade wars or the evolution of the exchange rate do not fully explain the poor result of 2018. Looking to find possible causes, it may be that, after the recovery of national demand, Spanish companies have less incentive to go abroad, or that the effect of the gains in competitiveness of all these years begins to run out, although none of these factors seems sufficient to justify a fall in elasticity so sharp and sudden. Most likely, it is a specific result, and in the coming years we will return to more normal elasticities, although they may not be as high as in recent years.

The slowdown in exports in 2018 was very widespread both from the point of view of the sectors affected and geographical destinations. The country that had more weight in the deceleration was Germany, the only important destination towards which our nominal exports have been reduced. Those aimed at the United Kingdom grew but modestly, so that they will remain far from the record high reached in 2016, before the contraction suffered in 2017. This was derived, fundamentally, from the steep fall recorded by the sales of automobiles to that country – destiny that represents 10% of our exports of the sector -, and that was repeated in 2018. They are two consecutive years of poor results for the exports of automobiles, not only to the United Kingdom but also the totals, while imports grow.

On the other hand, nominal imports in the period between January and November grew by 6% year-on-year, a rate strongly influenced by the price of oil, although at constant prices the growth was also higher than that of exports. As a result, the trade deficit increased in 2018, both in nominal and real terms, which translated into the figures of the National Accounts implies a negative contribution of the foreign sector to GDP growth of about five tenths of a percentage point. In the last ten years, only such a negative contribution was registered in 2014.

Expectations for 2019 are of some improvement. Slightly higher growth in exports is expected, despite the worst outlook for the world economy, reflecting that expected normalization of its elasticity, and a contribution from the foreign sector to GDP growth that is somewhat better, although it will remain negative. Let us interpret these results as a wake-up call about the need for measures to consolidate and improve the profits of recent years.

María Jesús Fernández He is a senior economist at Funcas.


Tourism regained some vigor in the last quarter, after the poor results in the previous two quarters. In October and November, the average number of foreign tourists grew by 3.4%, a rise similar to that recorded by tourist spending and air passenger traffic, in the latter case with data for the entire quarter. The result of the overnight stays has gone in the same direction, with a rebound of 3.1% in the quarter. However, it was already too late to save the year, in which overnight stays fell by 0.1%, the first drop since 2012. The influx of tourists grew a modest 0.7% over the whole year.


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