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By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's exports have extended their gains to 11 consecutive months and set a record high level by rising 16.7 percent, data showed Friday, maintaining solid growth despite growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19 variants around the globe.
Outbound shipments came to US$55.8 billion last month, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
The monthly figure was the highest since South Korea started compiling such data in 1956. The previous record was $55.4 billion posted in July this year.
Imports climbed 31 percent to $51.6 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $4.2 billion. It marked the 17th consecutive month for the country to post a trade surplus.
The September exports were slightly above what the market had been expecting.
According to a poll by Yonhap Infomax, the financial arm of Yonhap News Agency, the country's September exports were estimated to have risen 15 percent.
By sector, exports of chips moved up 28.2 percent to reach $12.1 billion, on the back of solid demand from the mobile segment following releases of new smartphones. Global server operators also expanded their investment, leading to stronger demand for chips.
It marked the 15th consecutive month for the shipments of semiconductors to grow on-year.
Other major winners included petrochemical products, whose shipments soared 52 percent on-year to $4.7 billion on the back of the strong demand for the construction industry.
Exports of petroleum also jumped a whopping 79 percent amid the limited supply of crude around the globe.
Overseas sales of steel products gained 42 percent due to the hike in global prices as well.
Sales of automobiles, on the other hand, slipped 6.1 percent to reach $3.5 billion, amid the global shortage of automotive chips. Exports of auto parts also fell 5.1 percent.
Rechargeable batteries saw their exports drop 2 percent on-year in September, as the supply shortage of automotive chips weighed down on the production of electric cars.
Exports of ships plunged 40.5 percent. The ministry said the decline came as latest orders won by local shipbuilders have not yet been reflected in the figure.
By destination, exports to China gained 17.3 percent on-year in September to $14.3 billion, on the back of chips, petrochemical products and mobile devices.
Shipments to the United States moved up 14.5 percent to $8 billion on construction equipments and chips.
Exports to Southeast Asian countries rose 17 percent on solid demand for display products as more people worked from home amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.
Shipments to Japan gained 17.2 percent, as the Asian neighbor purchased more steel from South Korea.
"Exports are expected to face challenges from the spread of the variant viruses, disruptions in global shipping services, delayed supply of parts, along with the hike in the price of raw materials," Industry Minister Moon Sung-wook said in a statement.
"We plan to spare no efforts to maintain the solid growth in exports for the remainder of 2021," he added.
South Korea's economy grew slightly faster than expected in the second quarter, thanks to a robust recovery of exports and the service sectors, according to the data that the central bank provided last month.
The nation's economy grew 0.8 percent in the April-June period from three months earlier, 0.1 percentage point higher than earlier expected, according to preliminary data from the Bank of Korea.
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