(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS details throughout)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, March 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports rose 9.5 percent in February from a year earlier to extend their gains for the fourth consecutive month on robust shipments of chips, autos and other key products, data showed Monday.
Exports came to US$44.8 billion last month, compared with $40.9 billion a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Imports rose 13.9 percent to $42.1 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $2.71 billion. It marked the 10th consecutive month for the country to post a trade surplus.
The latest figure slightly exceeded market expectations. According to a poll by Yonhap Infomax, the financial arm of Yonhap News Agency, the country's February exports were expected to have risen 8.9 percent on-year.
In January, exports expanded 11.4 percent, also on the back of chips and automobiles.
Experts say the global COVID-19 vaccination programs are expected to speed up the recovery of exports this year. South Korea also started its own inoculation campaign Friday.
Chips led the overall gain in February, with their outbound shipments expanding 13.2 percent on-year, rising for the eighth consecutive month.
Overseas sales of automobiles also shot up a whopping 47 percent.
The recovery of global crude price lent hands to exports of petrochemical and petroleum products as well.
Shipments of petrochemical products increased 22.4 percent on-year in February, while those of petroleum goods shed 15.2 percent over the period, which marked the smallest contraction since April.
On the back of the strong demand for COVID-19 test kits, the bio health segment enjoyed 62.5 percent growth in outbound shipments.
Other winners included displays, mobile devices and home appliances.
By destination, exports to China jumped 26.5 percent, while those to the United States gained 7.9 percent. The two countries represent around 40 percent of the combined exports of Asia's No. 4 economy.
Exports to the European Union also soared 48.2 percent.
In 2020, the country's outbound shipments came to $512.8 billion, down 5.4 percent from 2019. The South Korean economy, Asia's fourth largest, suffered a 1 percent retreat last year, marking the sharpest-ever contraction since the 1997 financial crisis.
Last week, South Korea's central bank raised its growth outlook of exports for this year to 7.1 percent from 5.3 percent. It maintained the economic growth outlook for the year at 3 percent but hinted it may revise up the figure depending on virus development.
'Half-success' of rocket launch creates new tasks for S. Korea's space program
EU's probe suspension leaves S. Korean shipbuilders' biz combination in limbo
S. Korean companies go big on future of hydrogen
Theaters abuzz with return to pre-pandemic level
Kakao, Naver in neck-and-neck race for 3rd most valuable firm in S. Korea