January 9, 2017 / 9:14 AM / 7 months ago

UPDATE 2-Taiwan's Dec export spurt may mean factories keep firing into Q1

4 Min Read

* Exports +14.0 pct y/y, beats forecasts

* Shipments to China +21.4 pct y/y; to U.S. +2.0 pct

* Exports to Japan +10.2 pct y/y; to Europe +0.1 pct

* 2016 exports contract for 2nd year, -1.7 pct (Releads, adds more comment from official and analysts)

By Jeanny Kao and J.R. Wu

TAIPEI, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan's exports bounced to a four-year high in December, fuelling hopes that global demand for technology goods and commodities will keep the island's exports strong through the first quarter.

The third monthly rise in exports, however, was not enough to help full-year shipments stay out of the red or subdue worries about rising global trade protectionism.

The island's tech-dominated manufacturers are nervous about the policies of incoming U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to raise tariffs on imports from some countries when he takes office on Jan. 20.

"We cannot assess the exact impact. It is only after he takes office that we will know exactly how he will implement (his policies)," Beatrice Tsai, an official with Taiwan's finance ministry, told a news conference on Monday.

Tsai said improved momentum reflects the global recovery and also stronger orders ahead of the long Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January, when factories in China and Taiwan grind to a halt.

"We expect double-digit growth extending into the first quarter of this year. However, it would be a difficult job to maintain the same level of growth beyond the first quarter," said Tony Phoo, Northeast Asia senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank.

Taiwan's recent export-related data could signal a stronger first quarter, which tends to be a cyclically weaker period and is coming from a low base. A measure of manufacturing activity in December showed operating conditions at their best in nearly six years and pointed to new business ahead at home and abroad.

Annual exports in December rose 14 percent, beating a 10.4 percent forecast in a Reuters poll and the fastest pace since January 2013's 21.9 percent gain.

Exports to China - where many Taiwan factories are located - leapt 21.4 percent, finance ministry data showed.

Shipments of electronic components, and the sub-category of integrated circuits, showed solid gains of more than 20 percent in December, while those related to smartphones rose just over 9 percent, data showed.

Exports of base metals, chemicals and transportation equipment posted double-digit growth.

But full-year exports fell for a second year in a row by 1.7 percent, while imports dropped 2.6 percent.

Goldman Sachs cautioned that rising trade barriers could limit export growth prospects in Asia this year, and it expects little monetary tightening in the region even if the Federal Reserve keeps raising interest rates.

"Downside risks to exports from increased trade protectionism look substantial," the investment house said in a research note on Monday.

Taiwan's trade surplus with the United States, its second-largest trading partner last year, fell to $4.92 billion, compared with $5.35 billion in 2015 and is down from highs of as much as $8.8 billion five years ago, ministry data showed.

Officials have said that Taiwan's trade surplus with the United States is within acceptable levels that shouldn't trigger protectionist attention from the incoming Trump government. (Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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