Feb. export order growth beats forecasts

By Theresa Tang Bloomberg

Export order growth in Taiwan, Asia’s fifth-biggest economy, was higher than the government expected in February and the full-year forecast for overseas shipments may be increased.

Orders, indicative of shipments in one to three months, climbed 8.2 percent from a year earlier after increasing 17 percent in January, the government said in Taipei. Economists expected a 8.1 percent gain, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

“We will probably see double-digit export order growth in March, driven by a recovery in demand for electronic and IT products,” Chang Yaw-tzong, the ministry’s statistics chief said. “We had a better-than-expected February.”

There is a “high possibility” that the government’s forecast for export growth in 2007 will be raised, the official told reporters today. The current prediction is that overseas shipments may increase at only half of last year’s pace because of a slowing economy in the U.S., Taiwan’s second-biggest market.

Economists often combine the first two months’ figures to remove distortions caused by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday. Export orders rose 12.9 percent across January and February, compared with a 23 percent gain in the same period last year.

The holiday’s timing, which cut five working days from the month, contributed to the slower growth in February.

Orders for electronics products rose 7.9 percent in February after climbing 20 percent in the previous month. Those for information technology products gained 22 percent after rising 23 percent.

Vickie Hsieh, an economist at President Investment Trust Corp., described growth for the first two months as “healthy.”

Overseas shipments, which account for about half of the economy, are expected to grow 6.2 percent this year, the government said last month. Electronics are the biggest export.

The Federal Reserve this week kept the benchmark U.S. interest rate unchanged and abandoned a bias toward higher borrowing costs, suggesting officials see a growing risk that an economy weakened by a recession in residential real estate will slow further. Gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, less than previously estimated.

Export orders from the U.S. grew 7.6 percent, after gaining 9.7 percent in January, the government said.

European orders increased 17 percent after rising 25 percent in the previous month. Orders from Hong Kong climbed 7.7 percent after rising 34 percent. Most Taiwan-made goods bound for China are shipped via Hong Kong because of transport restrictions between Taiwan and the mainland.

Japanese orders rose 4.3 percent after sliding 11 percent.

Taiwan’s industrial production fell 2.8 percent in February after climbing a revised 5.6 percent in the previous month. That compares with the survey’s median estimate of a 1.7 percent decline.