SEOUL (REUTERS) – Robust demand for chips and petrochemical products helped South Korean exports to expand for a fifth consecutive month in March, charting a stable recovery path for Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Exports jumped 16.6 per cent from a year earlier, exceeding a 16.2 per cent forecast by analysts, data from the trade ministry showed on Thursday (April 1).

Both the International Monetary Fund and Bank of Korea raised their gross domestic product forecasts for South Korea last week, citing brisk global demand for its products and a 14.9 trillion won (S$17.8 billion) supplementary budget approved by the National Assembly.

Exports stood at $53.83 billion, above February’s $44.81 billion.

Imports gained 18.8 per cent to $49.65 billion, also beating forecasts for a 17.5 per cent jump.

“The base effect will keep export growth strong for the second quarter, and we expect the pace to slow down from the third quarter,” economist Lee Mi-sun at Bookook Securities said after the data was released.

President Moon Jae-in, in a speech to corporate leaders on Wednesday, said March exports were likely to show double-digit growth, as “the time for an economic rebound is now here. Growth will accelerate, and the spring will be here sooner.”

Thursday’s data showed exports of chips expanded for a ninth month in a row and logged the biggest shipment in value terms in 28 months.

Exports of petrochemical products surged 48.5 per cent in March from a year earlier.

By destination, exports to China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner, soared 26.0 per cent, while those to the United States jumped 9.2 per cent.

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