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Australia’s record-breaking mining exports hint of new sector boom

Port Hedland is the second largest town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia and the world’s largest bulk-export terminal. (Image courtesy of The Western Australian Land Information Authority)

Australia’s trade surplus surged to a record high in December of $3.5 billion thanks to a mix of higher mineral exports and soaring commodity prices, in which some see the beginning of a new mining boom.

Exports’ value jumped 5% in December from November helped by a 14% increase in coal and a 10% rise in iron ore shipments, outstripping imports which rose 1%, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics published Thursday show.

Higher commodity exports delivered a record trade surplus of $3.5 billion in December, the second monthly trade surplus Australia has recorded in nearly three years.

Coking coal shipments surged by 46%, or $798 million, while iron ore fines exports increased their value by 27%, or $1 billion, in December alone.

Gold also played a part, with exports surging 23% to $1.7 billion.

The encouraging data sharply contrasts with the record deficit of $4.3 billion the country recorded only 12 months ago.

HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham told AAP the export boom should considerably boost company profits, dividend payments, share prices and wages in the mining sector.

His comments will be tested beginning next week, as some of Australia’s top mining companies including Rio Tinto (ASX, LON:RIO), BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP), Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM) and South32 (ASX:S32) are set to start reporting their 2016 results.

This is only the second monthly trade surplus Australia has recorded in nearly three years, which evidences once again the country’s continued reliance on and vulnerability to changes in commodities markets.

The news comes on the back of a report from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which predicted that Australia’s mining and energy export earnings would jump by 30% between 2016 and 2017, hitting a small yet encouraging record of $204 billion.