04/04/2008 (The Star Online), Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia’s exports grew at the fastest pace in 15 months in February as rising crude and palm oil exports countered declining electronics sales.
Overseas sales rose 14.5% from a year earlier to RM47.05bil, after gaining 10.4% in January, the International Trade and Industry Ministry said in a statement. The median forecast of 14 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 12.1% increase.
Asian exporters are benefiting from rising demand for commodities and other goods from emerging markets including China as sales to the US weaken.
“High crude oil and palm oil prices have been keeping Malaysia’s export performance in decent shape amidst the decline in electronics,” said Irvin Seah, an economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd in Singapore.
“In the near term, the scenario is not likely to change much.”
Malaysia will count on domestic demand and high commodities prices to sustain growth as a US slowdown damps global trade, the central bank said on March 26, when it cut the 2008 growth forecast.
Crude oil in New York surged to a record US$111.80 a barrel on March 17. Palm oil in Malaysia, the global benchmark, reached an unprecedented RM4,486 on March 4. “While the external front may continue to sparkle in the near term on the back of high commodity prices, the shine is expected to gradually fade away toward the end of the year,” Seah said.
“A turnaround in electronics remains in doubt given the gloom in US growth outlook.”
The US economy, Malaysia’s largest overseas market, may contract in the first half of this year, US Federal Reserve chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Wednesday, acknowledging for the first time that a recession was possible amid the worst housing slump in a generation.
Malaysia's economy was forecast to grow between 5% and 6% this year after expanding 6.3% in 2007, slowing for the first time in three years, Bank Negara said in its annual report last month.
Sales of made-in-Malaysia Intel Corp chips and other electrical and electronics goods, which made up 37% of total exports in February, fell 6% from a year earlier, the fourth straight month of declines. Exports to the US dropped 19% to RM6bil.
Exports of palm oil doubled to RM3.77bil. Sales of crude oil jumped 55% to RM3.55bil, and shipments of liquefied natural gas added 33% to RM2.69bil. Refined petroleum products exports more than doubled.
Imports climbed 10.9% to RM37.9bil in February. The trade surplus was RM9.16bil, down from RM9.72bil in January. – Bloomberg