* Exports and imports both down, but volumes rises
* Weaker energy prices hit value of imports and exports
* New house prices rise for 12th month in a row
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, May 10 The value of Canada's imports and
exports both dipped in March on weaker energy prices, but
analysts said growing export volumes meant the outlook for trade
was brighter than it looked.
Statistics Canada said on Thursday the trade surplus rose to
C$351 million ($351 million) from $273 million in February as
imports declined at a faster rate than exports.
The surplus was smaller than the C$500 million forecast by
Exports fell by 0.4 percent, the third consecutive monthly
decline, as energy shipments decreased by 8.9 percent on an 8.0
percent drop in prices. Imports were down 0.6 percent, also on
weaker energy prices.
Exports are particularly important for Canada, accounting
for about 31 percent of gross domestic product in 2011.
Analysts said the drop in energy prices was obscuring the
larger picture and noted the volume of exports climbed 1.0
percent from February, while imports were up by 0.6 percent.
"Some softening in resource prices masked a decent trade
performance overall for Canada in both March and for all of the
first quarter," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at
BMO Capital markets.
Exports of industrial goods and machinery increased by 6.2
percent on higher volumes and prices, while exports of machinery
and equipment grew by 3.4 percent on increased volume.
"If you take (out) the decline in crude oil, which is mostly
due to prices during the month, we actually had a banner month
for exports," said Peter Hall, chief economist at Export
Development Canada (EDC).
"Everything else ... is doing quite well. We just got
swamped by a very negative oil number," he told Reuters.
Imports fell by 0.6 percent to a six-month low, pulled down
by a 14.9 percent drop in imports of energy products. Imports of
industrial goods and materials were down by 4.0 percent.
The trade data, along with healthier U.S. jobless claims,
helped push the Canadian dollar to a session high of
C$0.9980 versus the U.S. dollar, or $1.0020, on Thursday
morning, up from Wednesday's finish at C$1.0009 against the U.S.
dollar, or 99.91 U.S. cents. But the currency later fell back.
Last month the EDC forecast a 7.1 percent growth in exports
this year on the back of a strong U.S. recovery.
"(March) exports of industrial products, machinery and
equipment, and some consumer goods were notable, which we think
is consistent with U.S. economic activity," said David Madani of
Canada's exporters have had a hard time since the 2008
recession, which left them struggling to cope with weak markets
as well as the continuing negative effect of the strong Canadian
Exports to the United States, which took 73 percent of all
Canadian exports in March, fell by 2.1 percent, the third
month-on-month drop in a row.
Canada's trade surplus with the United States dropped to
C$4.62 billion in March from C$4.89 billion in February.
Separately, Statscan said the prices of new homes in Canada
rose by 0.3 percent in March from February, the 12th consecutive
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway)