South Korea's March exports rise as coronavirus drives teleconference demand

A woman wearing a face mask sits in South Korea on March 22, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask sits in South Korea on March 22, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korean exports rose 10.0 per cent 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 per cent on-year, the Korea Customs Service data showed on Monday (March 23), better than a 15.4 per cent 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 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 per cent during the period when eliminating the calendar effect, slower than a 9.3 per cent 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 per cent and 26.6 per cent, respectively. Exports of vessels have tumbled 49.6 per cent.

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

Last week, the Bank of Korea slashed interest rates by 50 basis points to a fresh record-low of 0.75 per cent 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 (S$13.6 billion) extra budget last week, while the government declared the hardest hit provinces "special disaster zones" that will get subsidies and tax exemptions.