(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments from 4th para; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports continued to dwindle from a year earlier in May, but the rate of drop slowed significantly, the government said Wednesday.
Outbound shipments came to US$39.78 billion last month, down 6 percent from the same month last year, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
The 6 percent on-year decline was the least since the start of the year. In January, exports plunged 18.5 percent, the most since August 2009.
The May figure also decelerated from an 11.2 percent on-year drop in April and an 8.2 percent fall in March.
Imports, on the other hand, continued to shrink at a fast clip, plunging 9.3 percent on-year to $32.7 billion in May.
The trade surplus came to $7.08 billion, marking the 52nd consecutive month of surplus.
A drop in exports of semiconductors, cars and auto parts weighed heavily on the overall outbound shipments last month, but their downward pace slowed down.
Exports of South Korean computer chips continued their losing streak last month, falling 4.1 percent on-year, but their contraction slowed from an 11.8 percent plunge a month earlier.
The auto industry also saw their overseas sales decrease, with car exports retreating 7.1 percent and outbound shipments of auto parts declining 2.7 percent.
Exports of ships tumbled 16.6 percent on-year last month amid the ongoing restructuring efforts in the local shipbuilding industry.
By region, exports to China, the country's largest export destination, sank 9.1 percent last month from a year ago, continuing their losing streak since the beginning of the year.
However, exports to the United States edged up 0.7 percent, a turnaround from two months of negative growth, while shipments to Vietnam jumped 17.7 percent.
The trade ministry said there are some signs of a recovery in the country's exports, considering that the total volume rose for two straight months, hitting a 2.7 percent on-year growth in May and a 5.3 percent gain in April. At the same time, the average daily export value hit a six-month high of $1.85 billion last month.
"We are facing downside pressure like a slowdown in global trade and still low oil prices, along with a possible U.S. rate hike," Cheong Seung-il, deputy trade minister, said in a press briefing. "But as we look into some details like the daily export value, we can carefully say that we are likely on a recovering track."
He said global market prices of chips, steel and flat displays have been on a steady rise, which will lend big support to a recovery in overall exports in the coming months.
"We can anticipate that South Korea's exports may touch the plus figure sometime in the second half if export volume and prices of such key sectors continue their upside pace amid the recent recovery trend of global oil prices," the trade ministry official said.
Market watchers forecast that crude oil prices will reach $46 per barrel in the fourth quarter of this year, up from an average $36 tallied in the second quarter.
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