The country’s balance of payments (BoP) swung to a deficit of $2.02 billion in February after the government paid off more foreign loans, central bank data showed.

“The BOP deficit in February 2021 reflected outflows, arising mainly from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’s (BSP) reserve management operations and the foreign currency withdrawals of the National Government,” it said in a statement.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported a surplus of $839 million surplus a year.

These outflows were partly offset by inflows from the central bank’s foreign exchange operations and income from its investments abroad, it added.

The government’s foreign debt stock as of end-January reached P3 trillion, down 3.2% from a month earlier after it repaid P93.49 billion in foreign debt, according to data from the Treasury bureau.

The BoP gives a glimpse of the country’s transactions with the rest of the world. A deficit means more funds left the country, while a surplus shows that more money came in.

The BoP deficit last month reflected the country’s gross international reserves (GIR) of $105.16 billion as of end-February, which was enough buffer to cover 12 months’ worth of imports of goods and payments of services and primary income.

It was also equivalent to 7.5 times the country’s short-term foreign debt based on original maturity and 5.2 times based on residual maturity.

“For 2021, we project exports and imports of goods to grow by 5% and 8% year on year, respectively, especially once the domestic economy reopens in the second half with an expected wider vaccine rollout,” Robert Dan J. Roces, chief economist at Security Bank Corp., said.

He also said the global economy could gather steam given the relatively fast pace of vaccination in several countries, some of which are key trading partners.

Exports fell by 5.2% from a year ago to $5.49 billion in January, while merchandise imports went down by 15% to $7.911 billion, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed.

The latest trade data brought the trade deficit to $2.42 billion in January, wider than the $2.149-billion gap in December 2020 but narrower than the year-ago level.

Mr. Roces said the BoP position should post a narrow surplus by year-end as economic recovery gains traction and imports rebound.

The central bank last week revised its BoP surplus projection for 2021 to $6.2 billion, equivalent to 1.6% of economic output, from its previous outlook of a $8-billion surplus. — Beatrice M. Laforga