KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysian exports unexpectedly fell 5.8 per cent in December owing to fewer shipments to China and the United States (US), the trade ministry said on Friday.
Exports totalled 57.27 billion ringgit (S$22.8 billion) after returning to a growth path in November following a one-month contraction.
Full-year exports for 2012 grew 0.6 per cent compared to the previous year as shipments to the debt-laden eurozone slumped 13.7 per cent and those to top trading partner China fell 3.1 per cent.
But Southeast Asian countries and the US offered a glimmer of hope, with exports rising 9.7 per cent and 5.4 per cent respectively.
Exports from Southeast Asia's third largest economy are expected to rise this year as the global economy recovers, said Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist with financial research firm RAM Holdings.
"The negative number (for December) is actually a surprise," he said, referring to official data which recorded weaker monthly exports to China and the US. "We think exports will likely improve in the coming months."
Resource-rich Malaysia relies heavily on exports of commodities such as palm oil and energy products, as well as electronics and other manufactured goods.
The country's economy grew a better-than-expected 5.2 per cent in the third quarter as domestic demand compensated for the weakening exports, spurred on by government spending ahead of elections this year.
The government has forecast full-year growth of at least 5.0 per cent for 2012.