(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 9,10,17)
By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, March 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's industrial output grew at the fastest pace in eight months in February, data showed Wednesday, in the latest sign that the economy is on a recovery track supported by exports amid the pandemic.
The industrial output increased 2.1 percent in February from the previous month, sharply turning around from a 0.6 percent on-month decline in January, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.
From a year earlier, it rose 0.4 percent.
It marked the fastest on-month gain since June 2020, when industrial production grew 3.9 percent.
Production in the mining, manufacturing, gas and electricity industries grew 4.3 percent on-month in February, the fastest gain since June 2020, on the back of brisk chip output.
Service output gained 1.1 percent on-month, the first increase in three months, as the accommodation and food sectors improved amid eased virus curbs.
On Feb. 15, the country lowered its tougher social distancing measures by one notch to Level 2, the third highest in its five-tier scheme, in the greater Seoul area and to Level 1.5 in other regions.
The in-person service sector bore the brunt of the pandemic as people refrained from visiting shops on concerns about virus infection risks.
The finance ministry said industrial output sharply rose as exports remained strong and a slump in domestic demand eased amid relaxed virus curbs.
"The pace of an economic recovery quickened last month from the previous month," Eo Woon-sun, a senior Statistics Korea official, said at a press briefing.
Private spending and investment declined on-month in February due largely to the base effect, according to the statistics agency.
Retail sales shed 0.8 percent from a month earlier, compared with a 1.6 percent gain in the previous month, due to a fall in demand for food and telecommunication goods. It marked the first on-month decline in three months.
Facility investment declined 2.5 percent last month, compared with a 6.5 percent gain the previous month.
Despite the extended virus fallout, the South Korean economy is on a recovery track on robust exports.
Asia's fourth-largest economy contracted 1 percent last year, the first retreat since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. But its contraction was far smaller than other major advanced economies.
The Bank of Korea (BOK) forecast the Korean economy to grow 3 percent this year on the back of solid exports.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised up its 2021 growth outlook for the Korean economy to 3.6 percent from its estimate in January of 3.1 percent.
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