* Jan exports +3.4 pct y/y vs f‘cast +2.58 pct; imports -4.8 pct
* Exports to China +11.8 pct y/y, U.S. +8.1 pct
* Shipments to Europe -12.6 pct, Japan +2.7 pct
By Jeanny Kao and Michael Gold
TAIPEI, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s exports grew faster than expected in January, while imports slid on lower oil prices, providing a decent start to a year filled with uncertainties as to whether the island’s key tech sector can maintain its record momentum from 2014.
Exports grew an annual 3.4 percent last month, better than the 2.58 percent growth expected by economists in a Reuters poll. Exports contracted 2.8 percent in December.
Officials attributed the slide in import value, its second consecutive contraction, to the fall in global oil prices, as Taiwan imports nearly all of its oil.
Taiwan’s tech sector continues to ride the boom of launches of high-profile tech gadgets such as the new big-screen iPhone from Apple Inc, which drove its tech exports to a new high in 2014 - a feat that some say will be a challenge to repeat this year.
Despite stellar iPhone sales over the holiday shopping season, sector watchers are sceptical the Silicon Valley powerhouse can release another record-smashing piece of hardware in 2015.
“There aren’t any major tech product highlights on the horizon, only the Apple Watch and a new iPad model,” said KGI Securities economist Andrew Tsai. “I‘m conservative about their sales prospects, and expect their contribution to Taiwan’s exports this year to be limited.”
This would expose Taiwan further to deepening global uncertainties, reflected in January’s export breakdown.
Exports to Taiwan’s largest trading partner China leapt 11.8 percent, partly due to the timing of the Lunar New Year this year, with officials warning that the one-off fillip may constrain export growth this month. The new year fell in January last year but will be in February this year.
Shipments to the United States saw a 8.1 percent rise from a year earlier, while those to Japan were up 2.7 percent and exports to Europe tumbled 12.6 percent.
China remains one of the biggest question marks in Taiwan’s outlook, as trade performance in the world’s second-largest economy took a surprising hit in January.
This diverges with continued strength in the U.S. economy, where job creation in January far outstripped expectations.
Europe, another key export destination for the island, continued to show signs of weak demand. (Additional reporting by Emily Chan and Faith Hung; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)