Kia Motors Corp. vehicles bound for export are driven on to a Eukor Car Carriers Inc. roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

South Korea Trade Slips in Another Bearish Sign for World Economy

(Bloomberg) -- South Korea’s exports fell in December in the latest sign that the slowdown in China and the global trade war is weighing on global commerce.

  • Shipments decreased 1.2 percent in the month from a year earlier, lower than the 2.5 percent increase forecast by economists.
  • Exports to China dipped 13.9 percent compared to a 14.8 percent rise a year-earlier.

Key Insights

  • The downbeat data follows reports from the world’s biggest economies that show factories ended 2018 on a sluggish note. Five U.S. Federal Reserve indexes of regional manufacturing all slumped in December, the first time they’ve fallen in unison since May 2016, and China’s manufacturing purchasing managers index dropped to the weakest since early 2016 and below the 50 level that denotes contraction.
  • Bloomberg’s Global Trade Checkup is softening amid a fading rush to front-load export orders ahead of threatened tariffs, with economists warning 2019 will be the year the global economy feels the strain of trade tensions.
  • Concerns are rising that South Korea’s export growth will wane in 2019 as the trade conflict between Washington and Beijing drags on.
  • Many of Korea’s exports to China consist of intermediate goods that go into finished products that are shipped to the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Shipments of semiconductors, which dominate the country’s exports, fell 8.3 percent from a year earlier as large IT companies adjusted investment in data centers and memory chip supply shortage eased, the trade ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

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  • Korea releases its trade data earlier than most other major economies, and is considered a bellwether for global demand.
  • Imports rose 0.9 percent in December, compared with a 4 percent gain expected by economists.

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