Italy reported strong trade surplus data for November on Wednesday and said the figures for 2012 as a whole could be the strongest for 10 years an encouraging sign for the the eurozone's third-biggest economy.
Italy is in deep recession amid tough reforms to correct public finances which are widely credited with ensuring the country steers clear of any need for a bailout.
The data coincided with strong trade figures from another eurozone country and one in far deeper trouble, Ireland, which is hoping to emerge from a bailout programme this year, and also with a general trend of improving trade performances by weak peripheral eurozone countries.
The Italian statistics institute Istat said that Italy achieved a trade surplus of 2.4 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in November, about the same level as in October.
Istat said that the country was now on track to show a trade surplus of 8.0-10.0 billion euros for the year, the highest for 10 years.
One of the main factors of growth in an economy is a trade surplus, while a trade deficit undermines any growth generated by domestic consumption, investment and government spending.
A central objective of structural reforms, including budget measures, imposed on European countries bailed out by the International Monetary Fund and European Union is to raise efficiency and competitiveness to boost exports
Berenberg Bank analyst Christian Schulz, commenting from London on strong eurozone trade data released on Tuesday, said: "A new record trade balance may help to soften the euro recession in the fourth quarter (of 2012)."
He noted that the cumulative eurozone balance had swung from a deficit of 28.6 billion euros in the first 10 months of 2011 to a surplus of 61.8 billion euros in the same period of last year. The two dominating factors, Schulz said, were an impressive performance by Germany and "a 55-billion-euro swing in the trade performance of the southern peripheral eurozone countries."
The German and Italian figures contrast with the performance of France, the second-biggest eurozone economy after Germany, which is running a huge structural trade deficit.
-- Exports "the main lever" --
The latest Italian data showed that the surplus in trade with countries outside the European Union was 1.9 billion euros. The surplus with EU countries was 500 million euros.
Exports rose by 0.4 percent in November from October, mainly owing to non-EU markets, while imports fell by 2.2 percent.
On a 12-month comparison, exports rose by 3.6 percent and imports dropped by 8.2 percent.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti has engineered radical reforms to correct public finances and raise efficiency in the economy.
Istat said that in the first 11 months of the year the trade balance showed a surplus of 8.9 billion euros.
Exports rose by 0.4 percent in November from the October level, mainly to markets outside Europe, while imports fell by 2.2 percent. Purchases of energy products and investment goods fell sharply.
Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera said: "For the first time since 2002, Italy will end the year with an overall trade surplus (including imported energy) of about 8.0-10.0 billion euros thanks to a 5.0-percent rise of the value of exports and a contraction of imports."
Until now, Italy had experienced eight years of trade deficits, he said.
The performance last year showed that "exports are the main lever of development at this stage of difficulties for the Italian and European economies," he said.
Italy had managed to defend its market shares despite a sharp slowdown of some big emerging economies, he said.
"It's thanks to dynamic exports that Italy is benefiting from a financial position abroad which is very different from and stronger than that of some other countries in southern Europe under pressure on the markets," he said in reference to high borrowing rates on sovereign debt markets, although these have eased sharply recently.
On Tuesday, the 17-nation eurozone posted a November trade surplus of 13.7 billion euros, up from 9.3 billion euros in October.