[SEOUL] South Korean exports fell for a 12th straight month in December and by more than expected, official estimates showed on Friday, capping its worst annual trade performance since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
Shipments in December fell 13.8 per cent from a year earlier, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said, much sharper than a 4.8 per cent decline in November but not as steep as a 16.0 per cent drop in October.
Imports slumped 19.2 per cent on-year in December, resulting in a trade surplus of US$7.2 billion.
The median forecast from the Reuters survey was for December exports to fall 10.9 per cent on-year, while imports were seen slumping 18.6 per cent.
"We'll see this kind of weakness in exports at least throughout the first quarter. It won't be easy for shipments to rebound short term as China faces a chance that growth this year will be weaker than 2015," said Park Sang Hyun, chief economist at HI Investment & Securities in Seoul. "Considering recent data, fourth-quarter growth will probably be worse than the Bank of Korea's expectations." South Korea's central bank currently sees 2015 growth at 2.7 per cent.
For the whole year, exports were down 7.9 per cent while imports slumped 19.2 per cent. Both were the worst drops since 2009, when exports and imports dropped 13.9 per cent and 25.8 per cent, respectively.
The average export value per working day stood at US$2.13 billion in December, compared to US$1.93 billion in November, according to Reuters calculations.
South Korea is the world's seventh-largest exporter and the first major exporting economy in the world to report trade figures every month, thus providing a quick guide on the latest state of global trade and the economy.
The trade ministry will provide a breakdown on the export data by sector and destination later in the day.