(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS details throughout; ADDS photo)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEJONG, June 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports sank 23.7 percent in May due to the growing economic fallout from the new coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted the global supply chain, data showed Monday, but the fall was slightly cushioned by the recovery in exports of chips.
Outbound shipments came to US$34.8 billion last month, compared with $45.7 billion posted a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Imports also surrendered 21.1 percent to $34.4 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $440 million. The country snapped its 98 straight months of having more exports than imports in April.
The May decline was roughly in line with what the market had expected. According to a poll by Yonhap Infomax, the financial arm of Yonhap News Agency, the country's exports were estimated to have dipped by 22.5 percent last month compared with a year earlier.
Exports by Asia's No. 4 economy were expected to rebound from last year's 10 percent drop in annual exports, which was mostly attributable to the weak global chip prices coupled with the Sino-American trade war.
In February, South Korea enjoyed a 4.5 percent rise in its outbound shipments, the first on-year rebound in 14 months.
The recovery, however, was short-lived due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has clobbered the supply chain with lockdowns and social-distancing drives.
The decrease nevertheless slightly narrowed from April's 25 percent on-year drop.
South Korea said the relatively better data came as exports of chips, the mainstay product, advanced 7.1 percent on-year despite the pandemic.
Outbound shipments to China returned to the level before the COVID-19 pandemic as well, according to the ministry. More details will be provided later in the day.
Exports of products considered beneficiaries of the global pandemic also cushioned the falling exports from other areas.
Sales of biohealth items shot up 59.4 percent over the period on the growing popularity of South Korean COVID-19 test kits.
Due to the rising number of people working from home, exports of computers nearly doubled, jumping 82.7 percent in May. Processed foodstuffs were also among products that gathered ground amid the pandemic.
The grim export data cast a shadow on South Korea's overall economy.
Last week, the Bank of Korea projected the nation's economy to shrink by 0.2 percent on-year this year on projection that the global COVID-19 pandemic reaches its peak during the second quarter.
But the central bank pointed out that South Korea's economy may contract as much as 1.8 percent if new infections do not plateau by the third quarter.
The South Korean economy grew 2 percent in 2019, marking the slowest expansion since 2009, when it increased 0.8 percent in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
South Korea had some ups and downs in its own number of new coronavirus patients, with the figure experiencing a slight uptick in May due to a rise in new cases traced to clubs and a logistics center.
The country has been considered one of the most successful countries in containing the spread of the highly infectious disease, with around 11,500 COVID-19 patients reported here so far since Jan. 20.
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