December 1, 2018 / 2:21 AM / 9 days ago

South Korea November exports grow less than expected as Trump-Xi summit eyed

SEOUL - South Korean exports sustained growth in annual terms in November but missed expectations, official data showed on Saturday, as the first drop in shipments to China in over two years underlined cooling global demand.

A crane carries a container from a ship at the PNC container terminal at the Busan New Port in Busan, about 420 km (261 miles) southeast of Seoul, August 8, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File Photo

Exports by Asia’s fourth-largest economy grew 4.5 percent last month from a year earlier, missing market expectations as sales of computer memory chips slowed while demand from neighboring China shrank, the trade ministry data showed.

Exports rose to $51.92 billion in November from $49.70 billion a year earlier while imports grew 11.4 percent to $46.78 billion, the preliminary data showed. As a result, South Korea posted a trade surplus of $5.14 billion.

The bleak November foreign trade data, the first November data from a major exporting economy, came shortly before U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jin ping are due to hold a meeting in Buenos Aires, at which they are expected to discuss their trade dispute.

“If the two leaders reach an agreement not to slap additional tariffs, it would be great news to South Korean exports, but otherwise, exports would significantly lose momentum from early next year,” Park Sang-hyun, an analyst at Leading Investment & Securities, said of South Korean exports.

Exports were tipped to rise 6.6 percent in annual terms and imports by 12.0 percent in a Reuters survey.

Shipments to China, South Korea’s largest market, slipped 2.5 percent on-year in November in the first drop since October 2016. Overseas sales of memory chips grew 11.6 percent, the slowest since November 2016.

South Korea is home to world-wide suppliers of chips, ships, cars and petroleum products, and is the first major exporter to report its monthly trade data, providing an early scan of global economic health.

Saturday’s data brought South Korea’s combined exports for the first 11 months of this year at $557.19 billion, up 6.2 percent over a year earlier. But the growth has slowed from 15.8 percent throughout last year.

The Bank of Korea forecast exports next year would slow to a rise of 3.2 percent, although private-sector institutes predict risks for a faster slowdown.

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