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S. Korea's current account logs first Q1 deficit in 11 years

By Im Eun-byel

Published : May 10, 2023 - 15:45

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A container barge leaves port of Busan on Wednesday. (Yonhap) A container barge leaves port of Busan on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s current account balance in the first three months of 2023 posted a deficit for the first time in 11 years due to sluggish exports, Bank of Korea data showed Wednesday.

Though the country posted a current account surplus in March, the first quarter recorded a deficit of $4.46 billion due to a record-high deficit of $4.21 billion in January, followed by $520 million in February.

It was the first time the quarterly figure went into the red since the first quarter of 2012. The slump is attributed to the slowdown in the chip industry and the weaker-than-expected effects of China's reopening.

The trade balance for goods posted a deficit of $1.13 billion, marking a $6.69 billion drop from the same month in 2022.

Exports decreased by 12.6 percent in March on-year to $56.4 billion as well, logging a deficit for the seventh consecutive month. However, imports decreased by only 2.5 percent to $57.52 billion on-year.

Exports of home appliances led the fall by recording a 44.7 percent drop, followed by the shortfalls in semiconductors (down 33.8 percent), chemical industrial products (down 17.3 percent) and petroleum products (down 16.6 percent).

The account balance for services recorded a deficit of $1.9 billion, marking a $208 million on-year decrease. A deficit in the country’s travel balance led the fall, as more Koreans departed on overseas trips after COVID-19 restrictions were eased, while group tours from Chinese visitors -- which play an important part in the local tourism industry -- have yet to resume in Korea.

Despite deficits in the goods and service accounts, the country's monthly current account balance in March saw a surplus of $270 million, making a recovery from the deficits in January and February. The recovery was led by a $2.61 billion on-year increase to $3.65 billion in the primary income balance.

“The balance was able to swing back to surplus (after recording a deficit for two consecutive months) as the deficit from goods and services decreased and the surplus from the balance of primary income increased, due to tax exemptions on dividend income from foreign offices,” Shin Seung-cheol, director of the economic statistics department at the BOK, said during a press briefing.

Shin said the current account for April is likely to remain balanced overall, as the inflow of dividend income from overseas will continue, and the balance of goods and services has been showing signs of recovery.