Friday, March 14, 2008

Romania C/A deficit rises 16.8 pct y/y in Jan

BUCHAREST, March 13 (Reuters) - Romania's current account deficit rose around 17 percent on the year to 1.14 billion euros ($1.75 billion) in January, a much slower pace of growth compared with last year, central bank data showed on Thursday.

Revised figures show the current account gap in January 2007 more than trebled year-on-year. The external shortfall reached a cumulative 16.9 billion euros at the end of 2007, or around 14 percent of gross domestic product.

Economists have warned the gap makes Romania particularly vulnerable to any big outflows of foreign cash.

The shortfall widened rapidly after European Union accession at the start of last year removed customs taxes with member states. Analysts said the deficit's slower growth in January was largely due to a base effect and a weaker leu currency, but overall there were signs it could be stabilised this year.

"We can see that imports grew at a lesser pace than exports both in December and January," said Ionut Dumitru, head of research at Raiffeisen Bank in Bucharest.

"We are counting on the fact that the deficit will be stabilised this year ... that should be a good sign."

Central bank data showed exports rose 17 percent to 2.4 billion euros in January, boosted by a fall in the local leu currency, while imports rose 11.3 percent to 3.5 billion euros.

Ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Fitch have revised Romania's outlook to negative from stable within a few months of each other as the global credit crunch increased the risks of running such a big current account gap.

Officials have committed to containing the gap this year, which analysts say is a step in the right direction. "It's a slowdown in dynamics because of a weaker leu, but in percentage of GDP it's still unsustainable," said Ciprian Dascalu, an analyst for Millennium Bank in Bucharest.
"However, it's a good signal (for the way the current account will look at the end of the year) and it is slightly positive for the leu."

In January, foreign direct investment worth roughly 695 million euros covered 61.2 percent of the current account gap. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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