February 20, 2017 / 9:06 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-Taiwan export orders grow for 6th month as world gears up for iPhone8

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* Jan orders +5.2 pct, below +6.65 pct Reuters poll forecast

* Export order grow for 6th straight months

* Expected iPhone8, solid demand for Chinese phone boost activity

* Orders from China +5.5 pct, from U.S. +4.8 pct

By Faith Hung and Jeanny Kao

TAIPEI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Orders for Taiwan's exports rose for a sixth straight month in January on strong global demand for hi-tech gadgets such as Apple Inc's iPhones and Chinese smartphones, bolstering the government's view that economic growth could hit a three-year high this year.

The export-driven economies of Taiwan and many of its Asian neighbors are benefiting from a pick-up in global growth, and particularly in demand for electronics ahead of the upcoming launch of the new iPhone 8 later this year.

Export orders expanded 5.2 percent in January from a year earlier, though less than the 6.65 percent median forecast in a Reuters poll and slower than December's 6.3 percent growth.

But analysts remained optimistic it would be a solid year, with Apple leading a strong pipeline of new launches.

"Export orders should grow each quarter thanks to the launch of the new iPhone this year," said Wang Cheng-hung, an analyst at Cathay Financial Holding's fund unit.

Taiwan's export orders are a leading indicator of demand for Asia's exports and for hi-tech gadgets, and typically lead actual exports by two to three months.

Taiwan raised its 2017 economic growth target last week to 1.92 percent from a preliminary estimate of 1.4 percent in 2016, citing expectations of stronger shipments.

Exports in January rose for a fourth straight month, though momentum slowed substantially from the peak year-end shopping season in late 2016.

Export orders in January from China and the United States grew at a slightly slower pace than the previous month, but still expanded at a solid clip, while orders picked up from Europe and Japan.

The next generation iPhone 8 line is expected to be released by Apple in the back half of 2017, while demand for some up and coming Chinese smartphone brands is expected to continue to improve both domestically and globally.

Economists at Nomura believe Asia's electronics parts production may remain strong through at least the first half of this year, with improvements in Chinese phones' design and quality benefiting firms producing memory chips and displays across the region.

However, while the new launches are seen boosting business for Asian and global companies in those supply chains, the outlook for Asian exporters also is being clouded by fears of growing U.S. trade protectionism.

Editing by Kim Coghill

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