South Korea's exports shrank for the fourth consecutive month in April but its trade surplus hit a new high as imports dropped at a faster clip than exports, the government said Friday.
The country's overall outbound shipments came to US$46.22 billion last month, down 8.1 percent from the same month last year, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Still, the country posted a record trade surplus of $8.49 billion as imports plunged 17.8 percent on-year to $37.73 billion.
April also marked the 39th straight month of surplus.
The drop in exports was again attributed to a cut in global oil prices, which, in turn, has significantly reduced the price of petroleum and petrochemical products, South Korea's key export items.
Outbound shipments of petroleum products, such as gasoline and diesel, plunged 43.3 percent on-year in April, while they, in terms of volume, slipped 0.7 percent, the ministry said in a press release.
Shipments of petrochemical products, in terms of value, dropped 20.1 percent while their overall volume shrank only 7.3 percent.
The average price of Dubai crude, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the country's overall oil imports, came to $57.70 per barrel last month, down nearly 45 percent from $104.60 per barrel in April 2014, according to the ministry.
The drop in oil prices is also beginning to affect the prices of other products, it noted.
The average price of steel, also a major export item of South Korea, has dropped 8.7 percent on-year as of March, with that of DRAM computer chips plunging 12.8 percent.
In April, exports by South Korea's steel industry shrank 5.2 percent on-year, with automobile exports also dropping 8 percent.
Shipments of semiconductors, on the other hand, gained 7.5 percent.
By country, exports to China, the world's single largest importer of South Korean goods, slipped 5.2 percent on-year with exports to the United States shrinking 2.7 percent.
Shipments to European Union countries dropped 11.9 percent, with shipments to Japan and the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also plunging 12.6 percent and 19.8 percent on-year, respectively.
The sharp cut in imports was also attributed to a drop in oil prices.
The country's overall imports of raw materials, including energy, plunged 25.8 percent on-year in the first 20 days of last month while its energy imports tumbled 40.2 percent to $8.57 billion in the whole of April. The portion of energy imports in the country's overall imports also shrank from more than 25 percent in 2014 to less than 23 percent.
Imports of capital and consumer goods, on the other hand, gained 2.1 percent and 4.7 percent on-year, respectively, in the April 1-20 period, according to the ministry.
The ministry said the country's exports are again expected to post an on-year drop next month, partly due to a cut in the number of working days.
"The country's exports are expected to show positive growth from June following another on-year drop in May due to a reduction in the number of working days by one from a year earlier," it said.
"The government plans to take necessary measures to help boost the country's exports by re-evaluating the competitiveness of its key export items while working to successfully implement its short-term measures."
Under the short-term measures announced April 15, the government largely seeks to boost shipments to China, which currently accounts for about one-quarter of South Korea's overall exports, partly by identifying new and additional products with the most promising markets in the Asian country.