South Korea Dec exports unexpectedly fall on fragile global recovery
(For full table, double-click )
SEOUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Exports by industrial powerhouse South Korea unexpectedly fell in December, hit by fewer working days and as global demand has yet to fully recover from a year-long slump.
Overseas shipments last month fell by 5.5 percent from a year earlier to $45.10 billion while imports fell by 5.3 percent to $43.07 billion, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement on Tuesday, producing a trade surplus of $2.03 billion.
The median forecast from a Reuters poll of 12 analysts had tipped exports by Asia's fourth-largest economy to grow 0.9 percent in December over a year earlier, but views ranged widely from a 7.0 percent fall to a 4.1 percent rise.
Imports had been expected to decline 2.2 percent.
The government blamed the poor exports on the fact that there were three fewer working days last month than a year before. The average exports per working day did jump 7.7 percent to $2.10 billion last month from $1.95 billion a year earlier.
Still the weak December data along with other lukewarm figures published recently indicated that the recovery in global demand was still very slow, with uncertainties surrounding the U.S. and Chinese economies remaining high, analysts said.
"Without the calendar effect, the December foreign trade data indicates the global economy has clearly passed the trough but the recovery remains very slow," said Park Sang-hyun, chief economist at HI Investment & Securities.
"We have yet to confirm how the U.S. and Chinese economies unfold in the coming months in relation to the 'fiscal cliff' risk and China's attempts to lift domestic demand," he added.
South Korea is the world's first major exporting economy to publish monthly trade data, serving as a bellwether for investors and policymakers around the world at a time of heightened uncertainties about the global economy.
For the full year, South Korean exports fell 1.3 percent to $548.2 billion, swinging from a 19 percent rise in 2011 and marking the first decline since 2009. Imports fell 0.9 percent to $519.5 billion and trade surplus totalled $28.6 billion.
South Korea now expects overseas shipments to grow by 4.1 percent to $570.5 billion for the whole of 2013 and imports to rise by 5.0 percent to $545.5 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $25 billion, the ministry said.
South Korea is the world's seventh-largest exporter and home to some of the biggest global suppliers of cars, sending roughly a quarter of its total exports to China and about 10 percent each to the European Union and the United States.
(Additional reporting by Se Young Lee; Editing by Kim Coghill)