* Imports grew at double-digit pace for 5th straight month
* Trade deficit above $3 bln for 4th consecutive month (Adds peso, economist’s comments, data details)
By Manolo Serapio Jr and Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA, April 11 (Reuters) - Philippine exports fell for the first time in more than a year in February while imports sustained their double-digit increase, keeping the country’s trade deficit above $3 billion for a fourth straight month.
The wide trade gap has been spurred by rising imports of construction materials and machinery as President Rodrigo Duterte’s government upgrades ageing airports and roads. Imports in February rose at double-digit pace for the fifth straight month.
The big trade deficit has weighed on the peso this year, Asia’s worst performing currency having lost nearly 4 percent against the U.S. dollar so far.
“The double-digit import growth is likely to be sustained throughout the year as the economy’s household, business and government sectors will likely continue their robust spending,” said Angelo Taningco, an economist at Security Bank.
Exports dropped 1.8 percent from a year earlier to $4.66 billion, and imports climbed 18.6 percent to $7.72 billion, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed on Wednesday. It was the first time exports shrank since declining 4.5 percent in November 2016.
The January export data was revised to show an increase of 3.5 percent, compared with a previous figure that showed a growth of 0.5 percent.
Sales of electronic products, Manila’s top export, grew a slower 4.6 percent in February, compared with a revised 15.9 percent increase in January, the statistics agency said.
The trade deficit stood at $3.07 billion versus a gap of $3.16 billion in January.
The peso was slightly firmer at 51.931 against the U.S. dollar following the data, after closing at 52 on Tuesday.
“Despite the widening trade deficit amid strong import demand, the peso depreciation will only be modest as we expect more foreign inflows from foreign direct investments, remittances from overseas workers, and services exports,” said Taningco. (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz and Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)