* Export orders -14.5 pct y/y vs -5.2 pct in Reuters poll
* Feb orders from Europe -8.9 pct y/y; from U.S. -9.8 pct y/y
* Orders from largest export market China -22.1 pct y/y
By Faith Hung and Jenny Kao
TAIPEI, March 20 (Reuters) - Orders for Taiwan’s exports in February shrank 14.5 percent from a year earlier, far worse than expectations, as orders from its largest market China, Europe and the United States all fell, but the government said it saw significant improvement in March.
A rebound in orders this month would signal that Taiwan’s economic recovery was still on track, albeit at a much more sluggish and uneven pace than earlier anticipated.
“The figures don’t indicate Taiwan’s recovery is derailing,” said Aidan Wang, an economist at Yuanta Securities in Taipei.
“The first quarter is traditionally the weakest quarter for both Taiwan and China. I expect to see a growth jump for Taiwan in the second to third quarter.”
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected February export orders to contract 5.2 percent, after January’s 18 percent annual expansion.
But the government said that combined orders for January and February would be a more accurate gauge of trends, as one-month data early in the year is skewed by the timing of the festive season, which fell in January in 2012 but in February this year.
Total export orders for the months of January and February rose 1.1 over the same period a year earlier, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said on Wednesday, noting international demand for plastics, chemicals and metals was weak during the period.
But it said the value of export orders seen so far in March was “significantly higher” than February, and were likely to come in roughly unchanged from year-ago levels in terms of growth.
Global demand for Asian goods from main export markets in the West has appeared to be slowly improving. U.S. retail sales rose more than expected in February, offering hope that consumer spending on smartphones and tech gadgets will remain strong.
On a monthly basis, February orders fell a seasonally adjusted 4.9 percent from January.
Taiwan’s export order data is an indication of the strength of Asian exports and of global demand for technology products. They typically lead actual exports by two to three months.
In February, orders from China fell 22.1 percent from a year earlier, largely due to the long Lunar New Year holidays when many factories shut, after leaping 28.7 percent in January.
Orders from debt-stricken Europe fell 8.9 percent versus a rise of 21 percent in January.
Orders from the United States in February fell 9.8 percent following a rise of 15.5 percent in January.
Taiwanese firms are the main suppliers to most of the world’s top technology brands, including Apple Inc, Dell and Nokia.
Taiwan’s Acer Inc, the world’s No. 4 personal computer company by shipments, forecast this quarter’s tablet shipments will be 2.9 times higher than in the previous quarter, but said volumes for desktop and notebook PCs will decline.
TSMC, the world’s top contract micro chip maker and Apple Inc supplier Hon Hai Precision are both adding 5,000 new staff as the technology industry picks up, the local Economic Daily reported recently.
Taiwan’s actual exports in February posted their biggest slide in 13 months, down 15.8 percent from a year earlier, reflecting fewer working days in he month but also underscoring a still patchy recovery in global demand.
Combined Jan-Feb exports rose 2 percent from the same period a year earlier.
Exports from rival tech heavyweight South Korea also fell sharply in February as the yen’s slide hurt the competitiveness of Korean manufacturers.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s latest PMI fell to 50.2 in February from 51.5 in January, although total output and new orders both rose for a third month in a row.