March 9, 2020 / 8:43 AM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-Taiwan February exports leap, but outlook uncertain on virus

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TAIPEI, March 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan's exports unexpectedly leapt in February on strong sales of chips and telecommunication equipment, but the government warned of uncertainty ahead for the trade-reliant economy due to the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

Taiwan's exports jumped 24.9% from a year earlier to $25.4 billion in February, its best monthly growth rate since September 2017, data from the finance ministry showed on Monday.

A Reuters poll had forecast flat growth. In January, exports dropped by 7.6%.

The February figures come off a low base, as the traditional week-long Lunar New Year holiday fell in February last year, meaning there were fewer working days.

In China, where the epidemic has killed over 3,000 and infected more than 80,000 people, exports tumbled in the first two months of the year as the outbreak and government containment measures crippled factory production and led to a slump in demand.

Taiwan's finance ministry said the growth outlook for the coming months was "unclear" due to the virus, which it said could limit export growth in the first and second quarter.

Exports to the United States and Japan hit record highs by value in the first two months of 2020, thanks to strong demand for telecommunications and semiconductor products, the ministry added.

Taiwan's exports are a key gauge of global demand for technology gadgets worldwide.

Taiwan, whose largest trading partner is China, cut its estimate for 2020 economic growth to 2.37% last month as the outbreak threatened its economy.

The island has readied a T$60 billion ($2 billion) stimulus package to help soften the virus impact, which some analysts said could hit its economy growth this year badly.

Some Taiwan manufacturers have already felt the pinch. Apple's manufacturing partner Foxconn last week reported its biggest monthly drop in revenue in about seven years as the coronavirus outbreak played havoc with its business. (Reporting by Liang-sa Loh and Yimou Lee; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Louise Heavens)

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