Malaysia's exports fall again in April, trade surplus at 16-year low

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia's exports unexpectedly fell in April from a year ago, with shipments to China falling the most, pushing Malaysia's trade surplus to a 16-year low.

The third straight month of decline in exports puts further pressure on Malaysia's trade-reliant economy, which grew 4.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2013, the slowest pace in more than three years.

April exports slipped 3.3 per cent on year, led by a sharp drop in shipments of crude petroleum and electronics. Shipments to China, a top trading partner, fell 13.5 per cent on the year, followed by Japan and the European Union.

Imports, on the other hand, rose 9.2 per cent in April from a year ago, reflecting robust domestic demand, but narrowing the trade surplus to its smallest since the Asian financial crisis 16 years ago.

"The very low trade surplus definitely puts pressure on the current account. We've seen the current account decline quite steadily since last year," said Mr Daniel Wilson, ANZ economist in Singapore.

"This overall trend or narrowing trade balance should remain a theme for the rest of the year, as domestic demand is still quite robust, and we see exports tail off with lower commodity prices and uncertainties in external demand."

Electrical products normally make up the bulk of Malaysia's exports, followed by commodities such a natural gas, petroleum, and palm oil.

Malaysia, the third-largest economy in South-east Asia, has been vulnerable to uncertainties in the global financial market and the euro zone debt crisis, which has dragged exports and hampered growth.

Bank Negara kept the benchmark interest rate unchanged for the 12th straight time at its May 8 policy meeting, saying inflation is expected to remain benign for the rest of the year.