(ATTN: MODIFIES attribution in 2nd para; UPDATES with more details, remarks from a BOK official in paras 8-11, 18-22; ADDS photos)
By Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL, May 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's current account surplus widened from a year earlier in March as a sharp increase in primary income helped offset a slight drop in its goods account surplus, central bank data showed Thursday.
The country's current account surplus came to US$6.23 billion in the month, compared with a $5.04 billion surplus the same month last year, according to preliminary data from the Bank of Korea (BOK).
South Korea has posted a current account surplus for 11 consecutive months.
Its goods account surplus sharply narrowed to $7 billion from $8.34 billion a year earlier as exports dropped at a faster rate than imports.
The country's outbound shipments slipped 0.2 percent on-year to $46.9 billion in March, with imports falling 0.3 percent to $41.8 billion over the cited period.
On a customs clearance basis, the country's exports dipped 3.3 percent on-year to $46.4 billion in March, the BOK said.
Imports slipped 0.6 percent to $39.4 billion, it added.
"The drop in exports was largely due to a drop in exports to China due to the COVID-19 outbreak, while the unit price of key export items dropped," Park Yang-su, head of the BOK's economic statistics department, told a press briefing.
The BOK official noted the outbreak may have yet to take its full effect on the country's exports.
"The COVID-19 outbreak began to take its effect in South Korea and China in February, and globally after March. Therefore, its effect on the country's exports and its goods account surplus had still been limited," he said.
The country's exports to the U.S. and Europe showed little changes from a year earlier in March, he added.
The country's service account continued to be in the red in March, but its deficit narrowed to $1.46 billion from $2.1 billion a year earlier.
Its travel account deficit widened to $370 million from a $170 million deficit in March 2019 on a plunge in the number of foreign visitors to South Korea caused by the spread of the new coronavirus.
In March, the number of visitors to the country tumbled 94.6 percent on-year to around 80,000, while the number of South Koreans going overseas fell 93.9 percent to some 143,000, according to the BOK.
The country's surplus in the intellectual property rights payment account narrowed to $550 million from $950 million a year earlier.
Its primary income account posted a $930 million surplus, marking a turnaround from a $610 million deficit a year earlier, according to the BOK.
The country posted a $970 million surplus in investment income, largely due to its dividend payment income turning to a $400 million surplus from a $1.24 billion deficit a year before.
In the first three months of the year, the country's current account surplus came to $13.61 billion, slightly up from $12.19 billion over the same period last year, according to the BOK.
Its goods account surplus narrowed to $15.34 billion from $19.52 billion over the cited period, while its service account deficit narrowed to $5.28 billion from $7.18 billion.
The drop in service account deficit was partly attributed to a sharp decline in the travel account deficit, helped by a drop in the number of South Koreans going abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the first quarter, the number of South Koreans going overseas plunged 52.9 percent on-year to some 3.7 million while the number of visitors to the country dropped 46.9 percent to about 2.04 million, according to the BOK.
The country's primary income account surplus came to $3.86 billion in the January-March period, more than double $1.52 billion over the same period a year earlier.
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