UPDATE 1-Indonesia Dec trade deficit narrows, 2012 exports down 6.6 pct
JAKARTA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Indonesia reported a smaller-than-expected trade deficit in December that took its trade gap for 2012 - the country's first ever - to $1.63 billion.
For December, the deficit was $0.15 billion, compared with November's $0.48 billion, the country's statistics bureau announced on Friday. A Reuters poll of economists had forecast a December gap of $500 million.
Exports in December fell 9.78 percent from a year earlier - more than the 2.59 percent seen in the poll - while imports rose 5.55 percent, compared with a forecast 4.95 percent.
For all of 2012, exports fell 6.61 percent from the previous year, while imports rose 8.02 percent.
December was the ninth straight month of falling exports, year-on-year. The October deficit, $1.54 billion, was a record high.
A widening trade deficit and recent increases in fuel imports have helped push the current account into negative territory, adding pressure on an already weak rupiah.
"While the December trade deficit shrank, we don't exactly read today's data as encouraging at all given that exports remain in the doldrums for now," said Gundy Cahyadi, economist at OCBC Bank in Singapore.
"This continued to signal that the trade account may remain under pressure in the near-term. Still, the narrowing of the trade deficit provides some breathing space for the rupiah for now."
DOMESTIC DEMAND OFFSETTING WEAK EXPORTS
The rupiah, emerging Asia's worst performing currency last year, has fallen about 1.2 percent this year.
Despite the weak trade performance, buoyant domestic demand and strong investment helped the economy expand by more than 6 percent in 2012.
The statistics bureau also reported a pick-up in inflation in January due to higher prices for food, beverages and tobacco products. The annual headline inflation rate was 4.57 percent, compared with 4.3 percent in December and a poll forecast of 4.5 percent.
During the month, Jakarta had massive floods that hit distribution in the capital.
The relatively low inflation, coupled with a still gloomy global economic outlook, means Bank Indonesia is likely to maintain its benchmark rate unchanged at a record low of 5.75 percent at a Feb. 12 meeting.
(Additional reporting by Adriana Nina Kusuma; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Richard Borsuk)