Sweden weighed down by weak exports

Sweden weighed down by weak exports
Sweden posted the fourth straight decline in foreign trade in February, with both exports and imports posting steep falls from 2008 and set to weigh on the already-dismal outlook for the country's first quarter GDP.

Swedish exporters took a heavy hit in February despite some help from a weak krona as a worldwide financial crisis ate into demand for goods from the Nordic country.

Sweden’s trade surplus reached 9.5 billion kronor ($1.2 billion) in February from a revised 6.7 billion in January, the statistics office said. That is sharply lower than the 15.5 billion kronor which the export-dependent economy posted in the same month a year ago.

“Some of the drop is due to the 2008 leap year but the collapse in foreign demand of course pulls exports downwards,” said Johanna Jeansson, an analyst at Nordea.

The data showed exports had fallen 24 percent to 80.3 billion crowns from the previous year, although they were up a touch from a revised 77.2 billion kronor in January. Imports were also down 22 percent from a year ago at 70.8 billion kronor.

Handelsbanken said in a research note exports adjusted for price changes had fallen by almost 30 percent year-on-year during the first two months of 2009 and would have a substantial impact on first quarter GDP.

“A lower number of working days explain parts of the falls in exports and imports compared to 2008. Still, the decline in exports in Q1 will be record large, even assuming some recovery in March,” it said.

The bank said weak trade would hit first quarter GDP with a negative contribution of -4 percent, much larger than the -1.6 percent in the fourth quarter, adding that GDP for the first quarter would likely be just as weak as in the fourth quarter.

Sweden’s GDP contracted at an annual pace of 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter as the financial crisis pushed the economy deeper into recession. The economy contracted 2.4 percent on a quarter-on-quarter basis.

However, analysts also said a weak krona had to some extent given Swedish exporters support against a backdrop of collapsing world trade.

Olle Holmgren, an analyst at SEB, said the figures were weak but on the margin slightly better than expected.

“But it is interesting that imports fall as much as exports, so that

the trade balance held up. The weak crown seems to help a little in that

respect,” he said.