S.Korea manufacturing up for 1st time in 7 mths

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea's manufacturing sector expanded in December for the first time in seven months but new export orders fell, a private survey showed on Wednesday, underscoring a still fragile recovery in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

The HSBC/Markit purchasing managers' index (PMI) on South Korea's manufacturing sector edged up to a seasonally adjusted 50.08 in December from 48.16 in November and 47.37 in October, Markit Economics said in a statement.

It was the first time since May that the index stood above the 50-point mark that separates expansion from contraction in manufacturing activity, but the recovery appeared fragile as the survey respondents reported a decline in export orders.

A sub-index on new export orders fell to a seasonally adjusted 48.86 in December from 49.63 in November, marking the seventh month of contraction on persistent worries about a possible U.S. fiscal crisis and the euro zone's troubles.

South Korea's economy is widely believed to have turned the corner during the third quarter but both policymakers and analysts predict the recovery will be modest as export demand from the advanced economies remain depressed.

Data released on Tuesday showed that South Korean exports in December suffered their first annual fall in three months due to fewer working days than a year before and as the global demand has yet to fully recover from slump.