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South Korea’s March exports rise as virus drives teleconference demand | News


By Joori Roh and Cynthia Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean exports rose 10.0% in the first 20 days of March year-on-year as the lockdowns across the world to prevent the coronavirus spread fuelled demand for teleconferencing technology and components.

Outbound shipments of semiconductors, the nation’s major export, jumped 20.3% on-year, the Korea Customs Service data showed on Monday, better than a 15.4% rise seen a month earlier.

“Demand from cloud computing firms have boosted sales of server chips, while an increase in telecommuting in the United States and China has also been a main drive to huge server demand,” a trade ministry official told Reuters.

“But exports in April and May will worsen,” the official added, reflecting the significant fall in exporting contracts seen from February.

Chip giant Samsung Electronics <005930.KS> said last week the pandemic would hurt sales of smartphones and consumer electronics this year, although the chip market – which makes up about half of Samsung’s operating profit – would see demand growth.

Average exports per working day slid 0.4% during the period when eliminating the calendar effect, slower than a 9.3% decrease in Feb. 1-20 period. There were 1.5 more working days in the first 20 days of this month compared with the same period last year.

The fast-spreading virus has triggered a shutdown in factories across the globe, disrupting manufacturing and global supply chains.

More than 305,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and more than 13,000 have died, with deaths in Italy surpassing the toll in China, where the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally.

South Korea reported 98 new infections on Sunday, raising the national tally to 8,897.

A breakdown of the trade data also showed overseas sales of cars and smartphones rose 13.7% and 26.6%, respectively. Exports of vessels have tumbled 49.6%.

Exports to China, South Korea’s largest trading partner which takes in a quarter of total overseas sales, rose 4.9% on-year in the 20-day period, while those to the United States and the European Union jumped 27.2% and 13.5%, respectively.

Last week, the Bank of Korea slashed interest rates by 50 basis points to a fresh record-low of 0.75% in an emergency move, joining other central banks in their push to cushion the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The parliament also approved a 11.7 trillion won ($9.15 billion) extra budget last week, while the government declared the hardest hit provinces “special disaster zones” that will get subsidies and tax exemptions.

(Reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Kim Coghill and Sam Holmes)

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