SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean exports suffered a sharper contraction in January, falling for a 14th straight month as worsening sentiment over the new coronavirus and the effect from fewer working days outweighed improving global demand for semiconductors.
Overseas sales tumbled 6.1% at the first month of 2020 from a year earlier, trade ministry data showed on Saturday, worse than a 5.2% drop in December but beating a median 7.8% decline tipped in a Reuters poll.
Average exports per working day, however, rose 4.8% on year, the first expansion in 14 months, when eliminating the calendar effect. There were only 21.5 working days in January, 2.5 days less than last year, due to changes in the Lunar New Year holiday.
South Korea’s exports are a closely watched bellwether for world trade as it is the first major exporting economy to release monthly foreign trade data.
Overseas sales of semiconductors, the country’s top export, accounting for one-fifth of its total exports, fell 3.4% year-on-year, logging the smallest decline in 14 months.
The novel coronavirus’ spread across China and the globe had cast a shadow over expectations Asia’s fourth largest economy was heading for a firmer footing. Disruptions from the virus are seen knocking economic growth in China and beyond, denting demand for Korean goods.
The trade ministry said January figures showed barely any impact from the virus, but shipments may be affected from February if risks from the virus threat lingers.
On Monday, the Chinese government has extended the week-long Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Feb. 2 as it seeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The holiday, which began on Jan. 24, had been due to end on Jan. 30.
“Though we see exports recovery momentum on improving export prices and chip sales, exports to China are likely to have a negative impact, depending on the extent of the virus spread and whether it lasts,” said Chun Kyu-yeon, an economist at Hana Financial Investment.
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