The value of export orders for last month dropped 4.7 percent annually, much better than the government’s estimate of a 10 percent decline, but it still marked the 12th month straight of annual contraction in orders, the latest government data showed.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs attributed the better-than-expected results to the stronger-than-expected demand for international smartphone vendors’ new mid-end handsets.
“We were surprised by the results,” Department of Statistics Director-General Lin Lee-jen (林麗貞) said. “The scale of the annual decline last month represented the smallest decline since October last year.”
In addition to Apple Inc’s launch of its iPhone SE, Chinese smartphone vendors also introduced new mid-end handsets to the market last month, allowing Taiwanese components suppliers to receive more orders, which helped narrow the size of the annual drop in export orders last month, Lin said.
However, last month’s results still showed that export orders had declined for 12 straight months, on par with the previous record during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, Lin said.
From January to last month, export orders totaled US$98.48 billion, down 8.3 percent from the same period last year and 19.4 percent less than the previous three months, as orders for all items showed declines across the board, the ministry’s data showed.
Due to a sluggish global economy, orders for information technology products and electronics goods — the pillar of Taiwan’s exports — contracted by 5.7 percent and 2.8 percent year-on-year respectively in the first quarter, Lin said.
Orders for machinery products, base metals, petrochemical and plastic goods, and precision instruments plummeted by a double-digit percentage last quarter from a year earlier, the data showed.
Lin attributed the declining orders for traditional goods to persistently low international oil and stainless steel prices, adding that China’s efforts to cultivate its own panel and petrochemical products also put a lot of pressure on Taiwan’s export orders.
By export destination — apart from to ASEAN, which grew by 1.5 percent annually in the last quarter — the US, China, Hong Kong and Japan all showed an annual decline in orders in the first quarter, data showed.
However, Lin said the 1.5 percent annual growth in ASEAN orders does not fully represent a recovering demand from the region, because most of the orders were placed in ASEAN by US clients.
Lin said that although the export orders showed an annual contraction last quarter, the scale of the decline is shrinking on a monthly basis, suggesting signs of recovery in export orders.
Compared with last year, the global crude and stainless steel prices have become stable in recent months, Lin said, adding that the demand for electronics and information technology goods also improved in the past few months.
Lin said the ministry foresees that export orders could swing back to positive territory this quarter, fueled by an improving demand for smartphones from emerging markets and improving demand for petrochemical and stainless steel products.