* Taiwan Nov exports +12.1 pct y/y, tops forecast
* But momentum will be capped - ministry
* Exports to China +19 pct, to U.S. +9.1 pct
* Exports to Europe +1.9 pct, to Japan +0.8 pct
* Taiwan’s trade surplus with U.S. narrows from Oct (Adds comments, details)
By J.R. Wu and Faith Hung
TAIPEI, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s exports in November grew at their strongest pace in nearly four years, as global retailers stocked up on the island’s hi-tech gadgets for the year-end shopping season, but analysts said momentum will fade as seasonal demand peaks.
The better-than-expected growth should mean Taiwan’s central bank will keep its interest rate unchanged again at a quarterly meeting on Dec. 22.
Exports grew 12.1 percent from a year earlier, the fastest on-year pace since January 2013, when exports expanded 21.94 percent, the Ministry of Finance said on Wednesday.
A Reuters poll expected 7.3 percent growth. In October, exports grew 9.4 percent, the fastest year-on-year growth since August 2014.
November exports “were better than expected mainly because they were bolstered by demand for Apple’s iPhones,” said Lucas Lee of Mega Securities in Taipei. “But the export value was 5.3 percent less than the prior month, indicating October was the peak.”
Last month’s growth stemmed from “strong semiconductor demand and improving prices of basic metal, crude oil and related products,” the ministry said.
“However, the momentum would be capped by the stiff competition of global industries, the direction of protectionism by U.S. President-elect Trump as well as the localization of China’s supply chain,” it said.
Asked about any impact on exports should Taiwan firms move manufacturing to the United States, Beatrice Tsai, a ministry director, “It is too early to tell.”
Her comments came after Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract electronics manufacturer and a major Apple Inc supplier, said it was in preliminary discussions to expand its operations in the U.S.
Taiwan tends to enjoy a surplus with the United States in its trade in goods. In November, the surplus narrowed to $335 million from $459 million in October, according to ministry data.
The island’s exports for the fourth quarter are upbeat but there are a lot of uncertainties for 2017, Tsai said.
November’s exports to China and the United States, Taiwan’s two biggest markets, rose 19 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively. They accelerated from October’s 14.9 percent and 7.8 percent.
Shipments to Europe rose 1.9 percent, compared with 6.8 percent in October, and those to Japan expanded 0.8 percent, down from 3.5 percent the previous month.
Taiwan is one of Asia’s major suppliers of technology components to global names including Apple Inc, and its export trend is a key gauge of global demand for technology gadgets.
Apple has projected record revenue for its current, holiday-dominated quarter even as it said its bigger iPhone 7 Plus model was in short supply.
Taiwan’s imports rose 3 percent in November on-year, sharply slower than 19.5 percent in October but more than an expected rise of 2 percent.
Stubbornly sluggish global demand and lower prices for commodities such as crude oil have weighed on Asia’s export-reliant economies for the last few years, and the outlook for 2017 has been further clouded by fears of rising U.S. trade protectionism under Trump. (Editing by Kim Coghill and Richard Borsuk)