South Korea's exports surged in January, posting their biggest gain in more two than decades as shipments of auto parts, semiconductors and consumer electronics rose amid the global economic recovery.
Exports increased 47.1 percent to $31.08 billion in January from the same month the year before, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said Monday. That was the biggest gain since exports rose 52.6 percent in August of 1988, said ministry official So Myoung-hee.
The trade figures are preliminary and subject to revision.
Exports of auto parts soared 158 percent from a year earlier, while semiconductors jumped 121.6 percent and liquid crystal devices gained 103.4 percent, the ministry said. Consumer electronics, petrochemicals and automobiles all racked up double-digit percentage increases.
Mobile phones and ships, however, failed to keep pace, declining 2.1 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively.
The ministry said the export surge came as the global economy recovers. Also boosting January's figures were increased exports to China ahead of lunar new year celebrations there, it said.
Shipments to China rose 88.5 percent during the first 20 days of the month from the year before. Lunar new year falls in mid-February this year. Exports to the country accounted for 30 percent of South Korea's total in January, So said.
Exports to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, meanwhile, rose 50.3 percent.
Individual country and regional data for the full month were not yet available.
Separately, Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea's biggest automaker, said Monday that exports from its South Korean factories rose 27.8 percent to 66,069 vehicles in January from a year earlier.
The company also said global sales — including domestic sales, exports from South Korea and sales of vehicles manufactured overseas — surged 50.4 percent to 269,841 vehicles.
Kia Motors Corp., the country's No. 2 automaker and Hyundai affiliate, said January exports from factories in South Korea rose 71.2 percent to 62,550 vehicles. Auto sales for the month surged 120 percent to 163,238 vehicles.
South Korea's export gain, however, could not prevent the country's first monthly trade deficit in a year as higher oil prices and increased fuel demand for heating and power generation amid colder temperatures pushed up the country's import bill.
Imports increased 26.7 percent in January to $31.55 billion, the ministry said, resulting in a deficit of $468 million compared with a surplus of $3.09 billion in December.
South Korea last recorded a deficit in January 2009 when the trade balance was $3.76 billion in the red.
So, the ministry official, said imports rose due to higher oil prices and colder temperatures.
She said the average temperature in Seoul was minus 4.5 degrees Celsius in January, compared with minus 2 degrees Celsius the year before.
In a statement, the ministry called the trade deficit figure an "appropriate level."
South Korea recorded a record trade surplus of $40.45 billion in 2009 following a deficit in 2008, its first since 1997 during the Asian financial crisis.
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