(Adds analyst comment, details)
* Dec exports +6.4 pct y/y (Reuters poll: +6.4 pct)
* Dec imports +7.3 pct y/y (Reuters poll: +6.8 pct)
* 2016 exports -5.9 pct, imports -7.1 pct
* First quarterly gain in exports in two years
By Christine Kim and Cynthia Kim
SEOUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) - South Korean exports in December rose for a second straight month, data showed on Sunday, adding to hopes for a firm turnaround in shipments that have fallen for most of the past two years.
Exports rose 6.4 percent on-year to $45.07 billion in December while imports jumped a faster 7.3 percent to $38.07 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $7.0 billion.
In November, exports and imports rose 2.5 percent and 9.3 percent respectively. December’s data helped exports from October through December chalk up to the first quarterly gain since late 2014.
“The decline in exports seems to have bottomed out. Auto, electronic components as well as finished electronic devices especially will sell much better this year,” Moon Jung-hui, an economist at KB Investment & Securities said after the release of the data.
Car and smartphone sales will also rise in 2017 as supply was tight last year, he added.
The data showed semiconductor exports soared 19.9 percent in December on-year, their best performance since Dec. 2013. Shipments of machinery and petrochemicals also rose last month, while household electronics and ship exports did poorly.
By region, exports to China posted a second month of gains, jumping 9.6 percent. Exports to the European Union surged 30.8 percent on-year in December, rebounding from a 22.1 percent drop in November to mark the sharpest rise since Nov. 2015.
Shipments to the United States, however, slipped 2.3 percent after rising 3.8 percent in November.
For the full year, South Korea’s exports fell 5.9 percent, while imports were down 7.1 percent. In 2015, they dropped 8.0 percent and 16.9 percent respectively.
In 2017, the government expects exports and imports to rise 2.9 percent and 7.2 percent while the Bank of Korea has projected slower gains of 2.5 percent and 2.1 percent.
Both have acknowledged that although exports will do better than last year, trade conditions face downside risks from possible U.S. protectionist measures under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Trump has vowed to change what he says are unfair trade agreements with countries around the world.
The won, which has been trading at weak levels against the dollar as of the last week of December, is also a major swing factor as turbulent financial markets in the wake of the U.S. presidential election pose uncertainties for trading companies.
Editing by Richard Pullin