(ATTN: RECASTS headline; ADDS details throughout)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports rebounded for the first time in seven months in September, data showed Thursday, helped by increased shipments of chips and automobiles as major trade partners gradually resumed their business activities amid the pandemic.
Outbound shipments came to US$48 billion last month, up 7.7 percent from $44.6 billion posted a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
The on-year gain in exports marked the largest increase since October 2018, the ministry said.
Imports edged up 1.1 percent to $39.1 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $8.8 billion, marking the largest surplus in two years.
The latest figures exceeded market expectations. According to a poll by Yonhap Infomax, the financial arm of Yonhap News Agency, the country's September exports were expected to have increased 2.8 percent on-year.
By segment, outbound shipments of chips, one of the country's mainstay export goods, jumped a whopping 11.8 percent on-year.
Outbound shipments of automobiles moved up 23.2 percent, marking the first on-year rise in six months.
Overseas sales of cars have been sluggish over the past few months due to lockdowns imposed on major trade partners, with the economic jitters also inducing consumers to delay purchases of them.
Shipments of machines edged up 0.8 percent, also rebounding for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry said.
Chips, cars and machines accounted for 35 percent of the country's overall exports in 2019.
Exports of electronics also increased 30.2 percent over the cited period, with overseas sales of batteries advancing 21.1 percent.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea's exports of biohealth products jumped nearly 80 percent on-year in September. With more people working from home around the globe, exports of computers shot up 66.8 percent as well.
Steel products rebounded for the first time in nine months by rising 1.8 percent.
By destination, exports to China, the largest trading partner, expanded 8.2 percent in September on-year. Outbound shipments to the United States rose 23.2 percent over the period.
Exports to the members of the European Union added 4.3 percent. Shipments to neighboring Japan, however, dropped 6 percent, the data showed.
Asia's fourth-largest economy had extended its slump in exports to a sixth month in August, as the new coronavirus around the globe continued to strain business activities.
The country enjoyed a 4.5 percent rise in its outbound shipments in February, the first on-year rebound in 14 months.
But the country's outbound shipments, however, fell again in March as the number of COVID-19 cases around the globe escalated, and the pace of decline further accelerated, plunging 25.5 percent in April and 23.6 percent in May.
South Korea's exports, which dropped more than 10 percent on-year in 2019, were earlier anticipated to rebound throughout 2020 on the back of the recovery in sales of memory chips.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, splashed cold water on that notion, straining the export-oriented economy.
The central bank data showed the economy shrank 3.2 percent in the April-June period from the previous quarter, the biggest on-quarter drop since a 3.3 percent retreat posted in the last three months of 2008.
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