Exports contracted 13 percent year-on-year to US$22.2 billion last month, as clients from across the world remained conservative about building inventory amid global economic uncertainty, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.
Outbound shipments declined for the 12th consecutive month and would stay in negative territory until knockout technological innovations appear on the horizon to boost manufacturers, officials said.
“Trading partners worldwide are shying away from active inventory-building on lingering concerns over the global slowdown and the oil price rout,” Department of Statistics Director-General Yeh Maan-tzwu (葉滿足) told reporters.
The cautious sentiment might persist through the current quarter and beyond, adding more pressure on the nation’s export-reliant economy.
Poor exports necessitage downward revisions of GDP figures by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, which is to update the data for last quarter and this year later today.
Imports shrank 11.7 percent to US$18.69 billion last month, creating a trade surplus of US$3.51 billion, the ministry’s report said, adding that the surplus was down 19.2 percent from January last year.
The slump in last month’s exports would have widened to 16.8 percent in the absence of two more working days this year, compared with last year, Yeh said.
That suggests a bleak result for this month due to fewer working days and the disruption of the earthquake that struck southern Taiwan on Feb. 6, she said, as some manufacturers have yet to recover full production capacity.
Electronics, which accounted for 31.7 percent of total exports, fell 7.1 percent from a year earlier, while optical shipments plunged 24.5 percent, the report said.
Yeh voiced concern about the feeble demand for camera lenses in light of their double-digit decline for three straight months.
Taichung-based Largan Precision Co (大立光), which supplies camera lenses for Apple Inc’s iPhone, saw its sales drop more than 20 percent last month, company data showed.
Other categories also fared poorly, with chemical shipments down by 19.8 percent and plastics down by 18.3 percent, the report said.
Basic metal and mineral products posted drops of 19.9 percent and 16.5 percent respectively.
Shipments to China, the nation’s largest export destination with a 38.6 percent share, fell 19.3 percent to US$8.56 billion. Exports to the US slipped 5.8 percent to US$2.72 billion, the report said.
Demand from Europe rebounded 3.4 percent to US$2.22 billion thanks to a bounce in demand for electronics components and chemical products, among others, the report said.
The landscape might not brighten until the slowdown in China turns around, Standard Chartered Bank economist Tony Phoo (符銘財) said.
“The latest data suggest the uneven global recovery continues to weigh on Taiwan’s trade performance… We expect exports to remain in negative territory in the first half if demand from China fails to pick up rapidly,” Phoo said.
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