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(3rd LD) Korea's 2019 growth slowest in decade, Q4 expansion faster than expected

All Headlines 11:39 January 22, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with additional remarks from BOK official in paras 11-15)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Jan. 22 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean economy expanded at the slowest pace in a decade in 2019, largely weighed down by an extended slump in outbound shipments amid a lengthy trade row between the United States and China, the central bank said Wednesday.

South Korea's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 2 percent in 2019 from a year earlier, according to advance data from the Bank of Korea (BOK).

The figure marks the slowest on-year growth since 2009, when Asia's fourth-largest economy expanded 0.7 percent in the aftermath of the financial crisis that jolted the globe economy the year before.

The South Korean economy is expected to grow 2.3 percent this year.

(3rd LD) Korea's 2019 growth slowest in decade, Q4 expansion faster than expected - 1

The BOK partly blamed poor export conditions for the lowest growth in a decade but also what it called a "structural" or fundamental change.

The U.S.-China trade dispute and delayed recovery in the global semiconductor market were cited as major reasons for the low growth rate.

"The country's economic growth depends heavily on exports, and the global economic growth slowed to the lowest since the (2008) global financial crisis," Park Yang-su, head of the BOK's economic statistics department, told a press briefing.

"Also, semiconductors account for a large share of our country's exports and the sector continued to face very difficult conditions throughout the year," Park added.

South Korea's exports plunged 10.3 percent from a year earlier in 2019 amid the prolonged trade dispute between the world's largest economies that are also the largest importers of South Korean products.

Semiconductors account for nearly one-quarter of the country's overall outbound shipments.

Local analysts expect a gradual recovery in the global chip market this year, citing the better-than-anticipated earnings by Samsung Electronics, the world's largest chip maker, in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Park noted the economy may still face other problems such as the pneumonia-like illness originating from Wuhan, China, that could further limit consumption here.

"Because the Wuhan pneumonia is still at its initial stage, it is difficult to predict how much it will affect our economic growth or how much it will spread," said Park.

But when the country faced the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2015, its consumption dwindled as people stayed inside out of fear, he added.

The remarks came two days after Seoul reported its first confirmed case of the illness.

The growth estimate still was on par with the 2 percent forecast by the central bank, but the BOK's growth outlook published in November followed three earlier downward revisions -- from 2.7 percent in late 2018 to 2.6 percent in January, 2.5 percent in April and 2.2 percent in July.

The annual growth estimate beat market consensus.

In a recent poll by Yonhap Infomax, the financial news arm of Yonhap News Agency, seven analysts predicted Asia's fourth-largest economy to have expanded 1.89 percent in 2019.

In the fourth quarter of the last year, the economy expanded at a better-than-expected clip of 1.2 percent from three months earlier, fanning hopes that Asia's fourth-largest economy may get on a recovery track. The figure marks the fastest quarterly growth rate since the third quarter of 2017.

The estimate-beating performance was underpinned by a surge in state spending and firm domestic demand.

"In the fourth quarter, the contribution rate of the government spending to growth expanded to 1 percentage point (from 0.2 percentage point three months earlier) on government efforts to minimize the amount of leftover budget," Park said.

In 2019, economic expansion generated by exports gained 1.5 percent from a year earlier, sharply slowing from a 3.5 percent on-year expansion in 2018, with that by imports dipping 0.6 percent in the year, marking a turnaround from a 0.8 percent on-year gain in 2018.

Amid the sluggish trade, the country's overall production by the manufacturing industry also slowed to a 1.4 percent on-year expansion in 2019 from 3.4 percent the previous year.

The file photo, taken May 14, 2019, shows stacks of export containers being loaded onto a ship at South Korea's largest seaport in Busan, located some 450 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

The construction industry posted a second consecutive year of decline, with its output dipping 3.2 percent last year following a 4 percent drop in 2018.

Fiscal spending jumped 6.5 percent on-year in 2019, up from 5.6 percent the year before, making up shortfalls in other sectors.

Private consumption, on the other hand, slowed to 1.9 percent from 2.8 percent over the cited period.

Meanwhile, the country's gross national income (GDI) is estimated to have shrunk 0.4 percent from a year earlier in 2019.

The central bank largely attributed the drop to the country's export prices falling at a faster rate than those of imports, resulting in a dip in the country's purchasing power.


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