Indonesia Dec trade surplus biggest in 2 years as exports surge

JAKARTA, Feb 3 (REUTERS) - Indonesia posted its third straight monthly trade surplus in December and its biggest in two years, in a welcome sign for South-east Asia's biggest economy amid investor worries about turbulence in other emerging markets.

The trade surplus in December totalled US$1.52 billion (S$1.94 billion), the largest since December 2011, the statistics bureau said. That followed a revised US$790 million surplus in November and was more than double the median estimate of a US$550 million surplus in a Reuters poll of economists.

Indonesia's rupiah - one of the so-called Fragile Five emerging market currencies - slid more than 20 per cent last year, hit by investor unease about the country's high current account deficit and the impact of a reduction in US monetary stimulus.

But the rupiah has held largely steady so far this year, helped in part as the Indonesian central bank has raised interest rates aggressively since last June. The rupiah pared earlier losses to trade at 12,215 per US dollar following Monday's data.

"Definitely, this is positive for sentiment in the markets, and it will be interesting how much of an impact this latest number will have on the current account data for 4Q13," said Mr Gundy Cahyadi, an economist at DBS Bank in Singapore. "We have forecasted current account deficit at 3.4 per cent of GDP in 2013, but now see some chance of it coming in slightly narrower than our expectations."

Bank Indonesia, the central bank, estimates the overall 2013 current account deficit would be below 3 per cent of gross domestic product, due to improving demand in the fourth quarter.

Exports in December surged 10.33 per cent from a year earlier, versus analysts' expectations for a 1.8 per cent rise, while imports fell 0.79 per cent, against a forecast 3.6 per cent drop. For 2013, exports fell 3.92 per cent and imports dropped 2.64 per cent.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's consumer price index rose 8.22 per cent in January from a year earlier, after torrential rain and natural disasters disrupted activity. The result was in line with an 8.38 per cent increase projected in a Reuters poll of economists, and marked the seventh straight month that annual inflation has stayed above 8 per cent.

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