SHORT MONTH: Exports to China fell 10.4 percent as some local firms moved back, while exports to the US gained 13.5 percent and those to all other markets weakened
By Crystal Hsu / Staff reporter
A decline in the nation’s exports last month widened 8.8 percent annually to US$20.39 billion, as demand for almost all product categories weakened amid a global economic slowdown, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.
It was the fourth straight month that exports retreated, with the pace of contraction likely to reach 3 percent this quarter, deeper than the government’s forecast of 2.81 percent, Department of Statistics Director-General Beatrice Tsai （蔡美娜） said.
“Global slowdown aside, fewer working days and front-loading in January dragged on outbound shipments last month,” Tsai said.
Imports saw a steeper downturn of 19.7 percent year-on-year to US$15.47 billion, allowing the trade surplus to swell 59.7 percent to US$4.93 billion, the ministry said in a report.
Shipments of electronics, the mainstay of the nation’s overall exports at a share of 31.5 percent, declined 8.3 percent to US$6.42 billion, as demand from China for chips slowed, it said.
Disappointing sales of smartphones and other consumer electronics has driven global brands to be conservative about inventory building, Tsai said, adding that order visibility would remain poor until the launch of next-generation devices in the second half of this year.
Lingering US-China trade disputes have cast a shadow over the landscape, even though the world’s two largest economies have agreed to extend a truce on additional tariffs, she said.
While exports of optical products plunged 17.1 percent, high-end camera lenses staged an 11 percent increase, thanks to the release of new smartphones by a global brand, Tsai said, alluding to China’s Huawei Technologies Co （華為）.
Shipments of information and communications technology products bucked the trend with a 9.7 percent increase, as some local firms moved manufacturing facilities back from China to avoid extra tariff burdens on computer servers, she said.
As a result, exports to China fell 10.4 percent, but gained 13.5 percent to the US, the report said.
Shipments destined for other markets all weakened, with a 15.9 percent decline for Europe, 12 percent for ASEAN members and 4.4 percent for Japan, it said.
The situation might stabilize this month, as some firms have started to rebuild inventory, encouraged by positive developments in US-China trade talks, but the rebound would be small, Tsai said.
An increase in capital equipment imports by local semiconductor firms lent support to confidence recovery, the report said.
Shipments of base metals, chemicals and plastic products fared weaker, shrinking 17.7 percent, 16.5 percent and 7.9 percent respectively from a year earlier due to soft raw material prices, it said.
Overall, exports dropped 4.1 percent to US$47.69 billion, while imports fell 4.8 percent to US$41.86 billion, it added.
Department of Statistics Director-General Beatrice Tsai announces the nation’s export figures for last month in Taipei yesterday. Photo: Wu Chia-jung, Taipei Times