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* Taiwan January exports +36.8% y/y vs +15% Reuters poll
* January imports +29.9% y/y vs +14.7% in poll
* Finance ministry expects Feb exports +3% to +8% y/y
* Govt sees outlook bright, helped by chip industry
TAIPEI, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s exports rose in January for the seventh consecutive month, with the unexpectedly strong pace setting a new record as its manufacturers benefited from consumers staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and new technologies such as 5G.
Exports jumped 36.8% from a year earlier to $34.27 billion in January, the highest monthly figure on record, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday, though it was helped by a low base with the week-long Lunar New Year holiday falling in January last year.
Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast a rise of 15% for last month, compared with a 12% jump in December.
The ministry attributed the growth to demand for chips to help power the “zero touch economy” exceeding expectations, as millions of people are forced to work and study remotely on laptops, tablets and other technology.
Apple Inc, for which firms such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd are major suppliers, launched its next-generation iPhone 12 with faster 5G connectivity in September.
The ministry expected exports to steadily expand in the first quarter, saying vaccines will help the global economy recovery and that Taiwan, with its strong semiconductor industry, stood ready to benefit from the digital economy transformation.
Exports to China, Taiwan’s largest trading partner, jumped an annual 57% to $14.85 billion, while exports to the United States grew 21.9% on year.
Taiwan’s economy grew at its fastest pace in almost a decade in the fourth quarter after a steep contraction earlier last year, as strong global demand for its tech exports offset the hit from the pandemic.
January imports rose 29.9%, against economists’ expectations for a 14.7% jump and a small gain of 0.9% in December.
Taiwan could see February exports rise more modestly in the range of 3% to 8% year on year, the ministry said, with the Lunar New Year holiday taking place in the middle of the month and cutting the number of work days. (Reporting by Liang-sa Loh and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)