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* Q1 export orders +12.6 pct y/y, March +12.3 pct (f'cast +10 pct)
* Strong order growth continues from China, U.S.
* Orders for major electronics components grow by double digit
By Faith Hung and Liang-Sa Loh
TAIPEI, April 20 (Reuters) - Taiwan's export orders rose for the eighth straight month in March and at a faster pace than expected as global demand remained strong for components of Apple Inc's new iPhone and other tech gadgets.
The continued expansion bodes well for the island's trade-driven economy and revenues for many companies in the global electronics supply chain, though the export outlook remains clouded by worries about a rise in U.S. protectionism.
Taiwan's export orders rose 12.3 percent in March from a year earlier, above the 10 percent forecast in a Reuters poll but slowing from a 22 percent pace the prior month.
In the first quarter, orders rose 12.6 percent from the same period last year, government data showed on Thursday.
"Although the first half of the year is the time when outgoing and incoming models of high-end handheld devices overlap, the Internet of things, automotive electronics, and cloud computing and other emerging technologies accelerate the development," the ministry of economic affairs said.
"Orders for traditional goods (also) remain solid, benefiting from global economic recovery and raw materials prices rebounding" from recent lows, it said.
Taiwan's orders are a leading indicator of actual shipments two to three months ahead and a gauge of demand for Asia's high-tech gadgets.
Mainland China, South Korea and Japan have also reported strong export data in recent months, with gains in electronics.
Orders for technology components, including those used in electronic, information and telecommunications goods, all showed double-digit growth, the ministry said.
Growing demand for semiconductors for smartphones, cars and home devices has been fueling capital investment in new manufacturing technology, propelling a rally over the past year in stock prices of chipmakers and companies that make equipment for them.
Shares of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world's largest contract chipmaker and a major supplier to Apple, rose more than 7 percent at one point this year before pulling back this month.
TSMC said on Thursday it had ordered machinery equipment worth T$354 million ($11.64 million) from Genesis Technology Inc
U.S.-listed Shares of semiconductor equipment suppliers surged on Wednesday after quarterly earnings reports from Lam Research and ASML Holding suggested the recent wave of spending by chipmakers was far from over.
"Business remains exceptional," Morgan Stanley analyst Joseph Moore wrote following Lam Research's report. "We could see upward revisions to spending throughout the year, and we expect memory (chips) to remain strong."
Export orders from Taiwan's best customers generally remained solid in March but grew at a slower pace than in February.
Orders from China, Taiwan's biggest market, were up 19.9 percent in March, slowing down from 40.5 percent growth from the previous month.
From the United States, orders climbed 15.4 percent versus 21.1 percent growth in February.
Orders from Europe rose 3.8 percent from 12.9 percent in the previous month. (Reporting by Faith Hung; Editing by Kim Coghill)