The nation’s exports grew at their slowest annual pace last month since October 2009 amid continuous global economic uncertainties, leading exports in the fourth quarter to decline unexpectedly from the third quarter, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said yesterday.
However, full-year exports still hit US$308.3 billion, up 12.3 percent from a year earlier, to reach their highest-ever level on the back of a strong global economic recovery in the first half of the year, the ministry said.
Still, the 12.3 percent export growth figure was lower than the 13.26 percent forecast by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics in November last year.
Outbound shipments last month rose 0.6 percent from a year earlier to US$23.95 billion, slower than the 1.3 percent growth recorded in November. On a monthly basis, exports contracted 2.9 percent last month, marking a second consecutive month of decline, the ministry said.
“The eurozone debt crisis and slowing economic recovery in the US struck down demand for Taiwanese products, further dragging down exports,” Lin Lee-jen (林麗貞), director of the ministry’s statistics department, told a press conference.
That made overall outbound shipments in the fourth quarter unusually lower than those in the third quarter last year for the second time in the past 10 years, Lin said.
Exports of information and communication technology (ICT) products shed 9.7 percent to US$1.39 billion last month from the previous year, posting the highest drop among the nation’s 10 main export sectors, the ministry said.
The ICT sector’s exports to the EU marked the fourth straight month of decline last month, with those to the US falling for a second consecutive month, Lin added.
Exports to European countries fell 14.8 percent from a year ago to total US$2.41 billion last month, while those to China and Hong Kong dropped 2.9 percent to US$9.52 billion, the second straight month below the US$10 billion level, the report’s data showed.
However, exports to other markets, including the US, Japan and the six ASEAN countries, all showed an increase last month from the previous year.
Moody’s Analytics associate economist Katrina Ell said last month’s exports indicated shipments abroad are under pressure from subdued global demand and inventory destocking.
“Forward-looking orders suggest weakness will persist in the coming months,” the Sydney-based economist said in a research note yesterday.
However, on the upside, recent data has shown economic recovery in the US is gathering steam and this bodes well for Taiwan’s prospects, as Taiwan’s industrial sector is heavily dependent on demand from the US, Ell added.
The ministry said imports dropped 2.7 percent from a year earlier to US$21.63 billion last month, the second straight month of decrease. Full-year inbound shipments rose 12.1 percent from a year ago to US$281.61 billion, the highest level ever, its data showed.
Imports of capital goods declined 12.3 percent from a year earlier to US$3.4 billion, with mechanical goods imports showing a double-digit drop for the sixth straight month to US$1.91 billion, indicating momentum on private investments lost ground in the second half of last year, data showed.
Nonetheless, on a monthly basis, imports of capital goods rebounded by 14.4 percent last month, the second time in the past three months that the sector’s imports rebounded from the previous month.
“This may be an early sign that local producers are becoming less bearish than before, though we may need a few more months of such data to confirm that,” Taipei-based Standard Chartered Bank economist Tony Phoo (符銘財) said yesterday.
The trade surplus amounted to US$2.32 billion last month, up 46 percent from last year, with the full-year trade surplus totaling US$26.69 billion, the third-highest level in history, the ministry’s statistics showed.