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Taiwan December export orders rebound, but 2019 fall worst in a decade

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01/20/2020 | 04:15am EST
A man rides a motorbike near Kaohsiung Port

Taiwan's export orders in December rose for the first time in 14 months, boosted by a pick-up in global demand for electronics amid easing trade tensions between the United States and China.

Orders in December rose 0.9% from a year earlier to $43.78 billion - the second-highest on record - ending a losing streak that began in November 2018, data from Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs showed on Monday.

The ministry said electronic orders for December were driven by demand for smartphones and 5G telecommunication devices.

The increase in December orders was better than a 0.1% rise forecast by economists in a Reuters poll, and came after November's 6.6% fall.

Huang Yu-ling, director of the ministry's statistics agency, said in the first quarter export orders were likely to record positive growth, maybe better than the first quarter of 2019.

However, orders dropped 5.3% in 2019, the worst since the global financial crisis of 2009, and compared with a 3.9% rise in 2018.

Exports for Taiwan's manufacturers, a key part of the global supply chain for tech giants such as Apple and Huawei [HWT.UL], have been hit by both trade war disruptions and sluggish global demand for hi-tech gadgets.

The ministry expects January export orders to contract between 11.1% and 8.6% from a year earlier, adding that rising demand for new technologies, including fifth-generation telecommunications (5G) and artificial intelligence, will help boost sales in the coming months.

Taiwan's economy bucked a regional growth slowdown last year, as recovering demand for high-end smartphones and factory relocations to the island offset the impact from the trade war between China and the United States - its two largest trading partners.

Taiwan's economy is forecast to have maintained relatively steady growth in the fourth quarter. Gross domestic product probably expanded 2.78% in October-December compared with a year earlier, a poll of 15 economists predicted, down slightly from 2.99% in the third quarter.

The export-reliant economy was named in a U.N. study as the largest beneficiary of "trade diversion" amid the U.S.-China trade war, as companies moved production to Taiwan to avoid higher tariffs.

December orders from the United States slipped 8.8% from a year earlier, compared with November's 4% decline.

Orders from China gained 5.6% versus a 1.2% fall the previous month. European orders jumped 15.8% while those from Japan fell 9.4%.

(Reporting by Liang-sa Loh and Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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