Seoul current account surplus hits 13-month high


SEOUL–South Korea’s current account surplus hit a 13-month high in November thanks to robust exports, despite growing fears of a global slowdown, the central bank said Thursday. The surplus in the account, the broadest measure of international trade, was US$5.05 billion last month compared to a revised US$4.13 billion in October. It was the highest surplus since US$5.49 billion in October 2010.

The current account remained in surplus for the 21st straight month, suggesting the country’s fundamentals remain sound despite economic turbulence in Europe and the United States. Exports to Europe fell 5.1 percent in November compared to a year earlier, although the pace of decline eased from October’s 20.3 percent fall. The total goods account registered a surplus of US$4.49 billion in November, up from a surplus of US$3.55 billion in October, thanks to strong overseas sales of petrochemical products and automobiles. Exports rose 12.6 percent year-on-year to US$47.1 billion and imports gained 10.4 percent to US$42.6 billion. The service account, which includes spending by South Koreans on overseas trips, saw a surplus of US$357 million last month, up from US$2.8 million in October. The primary income account, which records wages for foreign workers and dividend payments overseas, recorded a surplus of US$446 million in November, down from US$644 million in October. Industrial Output Unexpectedly Falls South Korea’s industrial production suffered a surprise fall in November as a global economic downturn curbed demand for electronics and other key products, official data showed Thursday. Output declined 0.4 percent from the previous month, after a 0.6 percent fall in October, the Statistics Korea government agency reported. The November figure missed the median forecast of a 0.4-percent gain predicted by a Dow Jones Newswires poll of economists. On a year-on-year basis, production growth slowed to 5.6 percent, from 6.3 percent in October, the government said. South Korea’s export-dependent economy is feeling the squeeze from the reverberations of the eurozone debt crisis and shaky U.S. economy. The government said supply chain disruptions caused by months of flooding in Thailand had also affected production. The data indicated South Korea’s economy is heading for a “soft landing,” HSBC economists wrote in a research note, predicting a quarter-point cut in the official interest rate to 3 percent in the first quarter of 2012. “This will safeguard growth and set the economy up for a healthy rebound,” they added. The government earlier this month slashed its economic growth forecast for next year to 3.7 percent from a previous projection of 4.5 percent, saying slowing global demand was hurting exports and domestic consumption.