UK IntelligenceUK Statistics

UK Trade: Nov 2016

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Main points

  • The UK’s deficit on trade in goods and services was estimated to have been £4.2 billion in November 2016, a widening of £2.6 billion from October 2016, which reflects a £3.3 billion increase in imports, partially offset by a £0.7 billion increase in exports.

  • The widening of the deficit in November 2016 is attributed to trade in goods in which there were increased imports from both EU and non-EU countries, partially offset by an increase in exports to EU countries.

  • At the commodity level the main cause of the widening monthly deficit for trade in goods in November 2016 was a widening of the deficit for both semi-manufactures and finished manufactures.

  • Total trade prices for exports and imports fell in November 2016 (1.9% and 1.0% respectively) which coincides with a slight recovery in the value of sterling following consistent falls earlier in 2016.

  • Between the 3 months to August 2016 and the 3 months to November 2016, the total trade deficit for goods and services narrowed by £0.4 billion to £11.0 billion, with exports increasing more than imports.

  • The 3-monthly narrowing of the deficit is attributed to an increase of the trade in services surplus, with the deficit in trade in goods widening slightly as the value of goods imported increased more than the value of goods exported.

Things you need to know about this release

Trade is measured through both imports and exports of goods and/or services. Data are supplied by over 30 sources including several administrative sources, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) being the largest. The quality of the HMRC source data for trade in goods is high in terms of the timeliness, comprehensiveness and coverage.

For trade in services, data are less timely than trade in goods estimates, sourced mainly from survey data and a variety of administrative sources. The data are processed quarterly, so monthly forecasts are made to provide a complete trade total. This means latest months are uncertain.

All trade values discussed in the bulletin are in current market prices. The time series dataset also includes chained volume measures (series for which the effects of inflation have been removed), and these are indexed to form the volume series presented in the publication tables.

Trade statistics for any one month can be erratic. For that reason, we recommend comparing the latest 3 months against the preceding 3 months and the same 3 months of the previous year. However, we also recognise the importance to users of an early estimate of trade; therefore we continue to produce a monthly estimate.

Oil and other “erratic” commodities can make a large contribution to trade in goods, but often mask the underlying trend in the export or import values due to their volatility. The “erratics” series includes ships, aircraft, precious stones, silver and non-monetary gold. Therefore we publish data exclusive of these commodities, which may provide a better guide to the emerging trade picture. We also provide a separate analysis of oil because it is subject to erratic price fluctuations and therefore volume data are provided in metric tonnes as well as value (£ million).

This release has a revisions period back to January 2015 for trade in services, and October 2016 for trade in goods. This means that we have incorporated additional data for these periods. Revisions can be made for a variety of reasons, the most common include: 

  • late responses to surveys and administrative sources, or changes to original returns

  • forecasts being replaced by actual data

  • revisions to seasonal adjustment factors, which are re-estimated every month and reviewed annually

This revisions period is consistent with the National Accounts revisions policy.

Due to a series of errors during 2014, the UK Statistics Authority suspended the National Statistics designation of UK trade on 14 November 2014. The Authority’s reassessment of UK trade against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics has been completed. We have now addressed some of the requirements of the reassessment of UK trade and are in the final stages of providing evidence on the remaining requirements. We have invested more resource into improving and developing the UK trade statistics, which is supported by the UK Statistics Authority. While developing, and delivering against, our development plan, we will continue to work with the Assessment Team to regain National Statistics status for UK trade statistics.

The deficit on trade in goods and services widens to £4.2 billion in November 2016

The deficit on trade in goods and services in November 2016 increased to £4.2 billion (current price), compared with a revised deficit of £1.5 billion in October 2016. The widening of the deficit reflects an increase in imports between October 2016 and November 2016. Imports of machinery and transport equipment rose by £1.4 billion, and were the largest contributors to the increase in imports.

Between the 3 months to August 2016 and the 3 months to November 2016, the total trade deficit (goods and services) narrowed by £0.4 billion to £11.0 billion. The trade position reflects exports minus imports; the narrowing of the deficit reflected a greater rise in exports (2.9%) than the rise in imports (2.4%). The increase in exports of services increased the trade in services surplus in the 3 months to November 2016. The exports of machinery and transport equipment and unspecified goods (including non-monetary gold) also increased, but increases in imports of goods (particularly of fuels and material manufactures) led to a widening of the trade in goods deficit during this period.

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Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government Licence v.1.0.

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