Malaysia’s exports probably rebounded in January from a surprise plunge in the previous month as higher prices of commodities and healthy global demand of goods lifted trade activity, a Reuters poll showed.
Factory output may have also improved in January following a slowing in December as demand for manufactured products rose in line with the better exports.
The median forecast of 14 polled economists was for 2.6 per cent year-on-year growth of January exports, compared with December’s 5.8 per cent fall, the worst result in three years. The forecasts for annual export change in January ranged from a contraction of 3.3 per cent to growth of 8.9 per cent.
"Lower palm oil export tax at zero per cent in January likely boosted crude palm oil shipments, while improving global demand may have lifted manufactured exports," said Bank America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin.
The Lunar New Year holiday came in February this year, so it had a smaller number of working days than usual. "There was a rush of exporters trying to export their products earlier in January because of the shorter month in February," said RHB economist Peck Boon Soon.
He added that February’s exports could, in turn, decline because of the holiday and a high base from a year earlier.
Imports in January probably climbed by 4.8 per cent compared with a 6.5 per cent tumble in December, the poll showed.
Economists expect that imports of capital and intermediate goods increased as they believe domestic demand stayed resilient.
The trade surplus was projected at RM8.2 billion, the same as recorded in the previous month.
Factory output, as measured by the industrial production index (IPI) probably rose 5.5 per cent in January year-on-year, quickening from 3.7 per cent in December. In the poll, forecasts for January ranged from 4.1 to 7.0 per cent.
Economists said stronger industrial output was likely driven by domestic-oriented manufacturing activities and complemented by the rebound in exports in the same month.
Malaysia’s manufacturing output rose 5.8 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, up from 3.3 per cent in the previous quarter, defying a sluggish export performance.
Construction activity rose 18.1 per cent in the last quarter, on an annual basis, and for all of 2012 surged 18.5 per cent, compared with 4.6 per cent in 2011.
"January’s IPI growth would continue to signal that domestic-oriented industries remain decent and supportive of the economy despite the drag that persists from the external front," said OCBC economist Gundy Cahyadi in Singapore.
Full-year exports in 2012, accounting for about 60 per cent of Malaysia’s economy, grew a mere 0.6 per cent from 2011. But the overall economy recorded surprisingly robust growth of 5.6 per cent as buoyant private and public investment offset a poor trade performance.
Bank Negara, the central bank, on Thursday kept the benchmark interest rate unchanged for the 11th straight time, saying its current monetary stance is appropriate and in line with the country’s growth and inflation outlook.
In January, Indonesia’s exports fell 1.24 per cent from the year before while Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports rose a weaker-than-expected 0.5 per cent. Thailand’s January exports jumped 16.09 per cent but that was largely due to low base effects from severe floods in late 2011.-- Reuters