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Korea posts $2.85b trade surplus in Feb.

Surplus down from January but country posts record daily exports of $2.05b despite Mideast turmoil

Korea posted a $2.85 billion trade surplus in February, the 13th straight month that it has recorded a favorable balance, official figures showed Tuesday.

The preliminary figures marked a slight decline from the revised $2.92 billion surplus for January, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.

Exports in February rose 17.9 percent from a year earlier to $38.96 billion while imports increased 16.3 percent to $36.11 billion.

The solid export gains were made in the face of unfavorable global developments.

The Lunar New Year holiday, which fell on three business days this year compared with one in 2010, may have been a factor limiting trade flows, the report showed.

The daily average for export volumes, which aren’t affected by the break, rose to a record $2.05 billion in February, driven by cars, semiconductors, oil products and steel, the ministry said.

This marks the first time that daily exports surpassed the $2 billion mark, exceeding the previous record of $1.94 billion reached in January.

“The slight decrease is partly the result of the three-day-long Lunar New Year holiday which resulted in fewer working days,” said An Byung-hwa, head of the ministry’s export-import division. He added that despite uncertainties arising from turmoil in some North African countries, trade was not seriously affected in the one-month period.

According to the report, outbound shipments were fueled by strong overseas demand for locally made cars, steel and refined petroleum products, with exports to most countries posting solid gains compared to the year before.

Exports of semiconductors climbed 8.7 percent and oil product exports increased 61 percent, the ministry said. Shipments of vehicles and steel gained 23.8 percent and 36.4 percent, respectively.

Overseas demand for general machinery moved up 38.2 percent, but sales of ships contracted 7.6 percent.

Outbound shipments to advanced industrialized economies surged 26.5 percent on-year, while those to developing economies moved up a modest 4.3 percent.

Shipments to China, the biggest buyer of Korean goods, increased 13.2 percent.

Exports to the U.S. jumped 41.5 percent on-year, with shipments to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries and Japan expanding 30.0 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively. Exports to the Middle East and European Union rose 19.8 percent and 5.3 percent each in the cited month.

Imports, which reduced the overall trade surplus, rose as international crude and commodities prices moved up during the month.

The country’s import of crude oil and natural gas jumped 34.1 percent and 5.2 percent in February from a year earlier, with those of coal surging 63.3 percent.

Korea, in addition, bought more consumer goods, although imports of intermediate goods contracted.

Intermediate capital goods imports fell 8.6 percent on-year, with consumer imports soaring 18.7 percent.

For March, the ministry in charge of the country’s industrial and trade promotion said uncertainties in some North African and Middle East countries will start to exert more pressure on global trade. It said that should the price of crude oil, which has already exceeded $100 per barrel, remain high it could hurt balance of trade. The ministry, however, expected Korea to post a trade surplus.

Seoul is presently keeping close tabs on events taking place in North Africa with attention to energy prices and repercussions to Korean companies in the region so that it can respond quickly and effectively to any sudden developments.

The central bank forecasts a 4.5 percent economic expansion in 2011, slowing from the 6.1 percent pace last year, and predicts inflation will accelerate to 3.5 percent from 2.9 percent.

Its policy board raised the benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point in July, November and January from a record-low 2 percent, joining counterparts from China and India in tightening monetary policy to fight inflation as Asia leads the global recovery.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy expanded 0.5 percent in the three months through December from the previous quarter, when it grew 0.7 percent. It grew 6.1 percent in 2010 from a year earlier, the fastest pace since 2002.

(From news reports )