Exports last month contracted a fractional 0.3 percent to US$27.3 billion from a year earlier, as electronics shipments showed resilience amid a global economic slowdown, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.
The figure is the second highest ever recorded in January and would have shown modest growth if export prices had not fallen by 3.9 percent, the ministry said.
“It is not clear if companies frontloaded shipments to avoid disruptions over the Lunar New Year holiday this month,” Department of Statistics Director-General Beatrice Tsai (蔡美娜) said.
Tsai had earlier predicted a 2.5 percent decline for last month.
The US-China trade dispute is not entirely negative for Taiwan, as some local server suppliers have moved their manufacturing facilities home and server exports to the US increased to US$230 million last month from US$2 million a year earlier, Tsai said.
The relocation of facilities explained why shipments of information and communications products spiked 21.4 percent last month, despite nearly flat sales of electronics — notably semiconductors, the ministry’s report said.
Exports to the US, Europe and Japan all rose by double-digit percentage points, but exports to China and ASEAN markets retreated significantly, Tsai said.
“That is because advanced economies held up pretty well, but emerging markets bore the brunt of the trade dispute due to their heavy dependence on exports,” Tsai said.
The decline was sharper for products linked to international oil and raw material prices.
Shipments of plastic, chemical and base metal products dropped 13.1 percent, 12.3 percent and 7.3 percent respectively, as price corrections and weak sentiment dampened demand, the report said.
By contrast, imports increased modestly by 6.8 percent year-on-year to US$26.39 billion, decreasing the trade surplus by 66.2 percent to US$910 million, the lowest in six years, it said.
Capital equipment imports increased 2.6 percent as local semiconductor firms bought new machinery to upgrade manufacturing facilities and bolster operations, Tsai said.
“It is not safe or wise to read the purchasing activity as a sign of stabilization, because the decline in exports could worsen this month and beyond due to slow seasonal trading,” Tsai said.
The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics on Wednesday forecast that exports would decline 2.81 percent this quarter and 1.95 percent next quarter.
The global smartphone market is saturated, but smartphone components still account for a big chunk of Taiwan’s outbound shipments, Tsai said.
That explains why the statistics agency expects exports to improve in the third quarter, when global brands are to release new devices, she added.
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