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(2nd LD) S. Korea's exports plunge 12.2 pct to US$36.4 bln in Feb.

All Headlines 13:36 March 01, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more info from in last 6 paras)
By Kim Boram

SEJONG, March 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports extended its losing streak to 14 straight months by plunging 12.2 percent from a year earlier in February due to waning global demand, the government said Tuesday.

The country's overall outbound shipments reached US$36.4 billion last month, compared to $41.5 billion from a year ago, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The February decline narrowed from January's 18.8 percent, the largest on-year fall since August 2009.

Exports have been on a steady decline since the first month of 2015 due to weak overseas demand amid a global economic slowdown and low oil prices.

This marks the longest monthly decline in exports in the country's trade history since outbound shipments backtracked from March 2001 to March 2002.

For the first two months of the year, exports fell 15.6 percent on-year to $73 billion.

Meanwhile, imports also tumbled 14.6 percent on-year to $29 billion last month.

The country's trade surplus came to $7.4 billion, slightly down from a surplus of $7.5 billion in the same month of last year.

February marked the 49th consecutive month Asia's fourth-largest economy has posted a trade surplus.

"Shipments of computers, wireless devices and machinery rebounded to offset a sharp decrease in ships, chips and petrochemical products," the ministry said in a press release. "But rising uncertainties like a slowdown in the Chinese economy and a protracted trend of low oil prices will keep weighing heavily on South Korea's outbound shipments."

Overseas sales of computers and communications gadgets including mobile phones rose 5.2 percent and 2.8 percent on-year, respectively, last month on more demand for new products such as Samsung Electronics Co.'s latest Galaxy 7 smartphone that is being shipped abroad for sales later in the month.

However, other big-name items including petroleum products, semiconductors and ships were hit hard by a slowdown in global trade and falling crude prices.

Petrochemical firms and shipbuilders saw their overseas sales dive 26.9 percent and 46 percent in February from a year ago, while shipmakers and flat panel display manufacturers suffered a 12.6-percent and 22.1-percent drop over the cited period.

The average price of Dubai crude, which accounts for over 80 percent of the country's overall oil imports, has been nearly halved from $55.70 per barrel in the second month of 2015 to $22.80 per barrel as of the end of last month.

By region, exports to the European Union and the United States rose 5 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively, while shipments to China slid 12.9 percent on-year, data showed.

Shipments to Vietnam jumped 17.9 percent on-year last month, a turnaround from a 8.2 percent fall in January, on the back of increased exports of mobile phones and electronic parts.

The ministry said while South Korea's exports to China continued to contract last month, the pace of the slide decelerated from 21.6 percent in the first month of this year.

He added Chinese demand for goods is showing some signs of recovery after the Lunar New Year's holiday.

The official noted that a recovery in the global economy and oil prices are key for a possible turnaround in exports. This is because refined petroleum products and petrochemicals make a sizeable part of the country's outbound shipments.

"Global demand is still weak and advanced countries are showing a tepid recovery and resource-rich countries are struggling with cheap commodity prices," said Lee. "Uncertainties are still high at this point. It is hard to say that exports will rebound in the near future."

brk@yna.co.kr
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