* Feb exports beat Reuters poll forecast for 19.0 pct rise
* Excluding holiday effect, exports outlook gloomy: analysts (Updates with government, analyst comments)
By Yoo Choonsik
SEOUL, March 1 (Reuters) - South Korean exports rose faster than expected in February but fell short of relieving fears about the impact of slowing global demand on Asia’s fourth-largest economy, government data showed on Thursday.
February exports rose 22.7 percent from a year earlier but combined data for January and February -- seen as a better indicator of activity due to Lunar New Year holidays -- showed exports rose just 6.8 percent for the two-month period after a shock fall in January.
The result underscored the market’s view that South Korean exports would grow at their weakest level in a decade this year, excluding 2009 when exports fell some 14 percent during the global financial crisis.
“February figures are in line with our expectations and there must have been some one-off elements, and so I don’t see any big surprise to change our view,” said Park Sang-hyun, chief economist at HI Investment & Securities.
February’s export growth was ahead of a market forecast for a 19.0 percent rise, while imports rose 23.6 percent, economy ministry data showed, ahead of a forecast for 22.3 percent growth.
For the January-February period, imports grew 12.7 percent, with both exports and imports continuing their slowdown since late 2011 as the euro zone’s fiscal crisis took a toll on the global economy.
The government has predicted that overseas sales by the world’s seventh-largest exporter will grow only about 7 percent this year, more than halving from a 19 percent rise in 2011 and the lowest growth since 2001, excluding 2009.
For February, the economy ministry said price rises over a year on some products like automobiles and petrochemicals and an “unusually sharp” rise in the value of ships delivered during the month contributed significantly to exports.
January’s 7 percent fall in exports was attributed to a fall in ship exports and a steep drop in exports to Europe.
The latest data was released as financial markets in Seoul were closed for a public holiday.
South Korea’s economic indicators for January and February are heavily distorted by the Lunar New Year festival, which falls alternately on the two months. Analysts tend to combinbe the months to gauge economic activity because many companies shut factories for more than the official three days.
China is South Korea’s largest export market, taking in almost one-quarter of the smaller neighbour’s total shipments abroad. The European Union and the United States each absorb 10 percent of South Korean exports.
Smartphones and other electronics goods account for 30 percent of South Korean exports, while automobiles and parts take for 12 percent and chemicals for another 12 percent. (Editing by Richard Pullin)