KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysia's exports in February rose faster than forecast due to stronger palm oil demand and a jump in tech shipments to the United States.
Exports in February grew 6.7 per cent from a year earlier, government data showed on Wednesday (April 6), more than double economists' estimates of 3.1 per cent growth. January exports had declined 2.8 per cent, falling for the first time since May 2015, hit by the effects of weak global oil prices.
Malaysia, the world's second-largest producer of palm oil, saw a 6.6 per cent annual rise in palm oil exports in February, as prices for the commodity improved although weak energy prices continued to pose a drag.
Economists said the rebound in exports in February was partly due to a low base of comparison last year. A recovery in commodity prices, however, would help sustain exports and the economy in the coming months although momentum had slowed.
"The healthy trade balance and positive export growth paints an overall resilient picture for Malaysia," Jeff Ng, an economist for Standard Chartered, told Reuters.
Exports to the United States in February grew 21 per cent from a year earlier to RM2.21 billion (S$764.9 million), mainly on higher shipments of electrical and electronic products, particularly photo-sensitive semiconductors. Exports to China also expanded 12 percent.
But exports of liquefied natural gas and crude oil remained weak, down 34 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively.
The ringgit briefly extended gains to a session high of 3.8950 per US dollar after the data. The currency was emerging Asia's worst performing last year.
Imports in February rose 1.6 per cent from a year earlier, slowing slightly from the previous month's pace of 3.3 per cent, but surpassing economists' median forecast of a 1.5 percent decline.
February's trade surplus widened to RM7.35 billion compared with RM5.39 billion in January.