MALAYSIA achieved a trade surplus of RM6.3bil in January, 38.5% higher than the RM4.5bil surplus recorded in December last year. The January surplus was the largest recorded by the country since March 2000, according to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti).
The larger trade surplus for January was mainly the result of a 6.4% increase in exports while imports rose by a marginal 0.4%,'' the ministry said in a statement yesterday.
Year on year, exports rose 11.3% to RM30.4bil in January from RM27.3bil in the same month last year. This growth rate was generally above economists' expectations.
MIDF-Sisma Securities economist Azrul Azwar said the export growth figures had beaten his forecast of a year-on-year 8% increase.
He attributed the strong January 2003 exports figure to higher imports especially by Asean countries and to higher prices for commodities like petroleum and palm oil products during the month.
The higher-than-anticipated rise in exports was a pleasant surprise,'' he said, but cautioned that it remained to be seen whether such robust export growth numbers were sustainable in the coming months.
He said that on the downside, the electrical and electronic products (E&E) export component had seen a second straight month of decline (minus 2.4%) on a year-on-year basis.
In January 2003, E&E exports accounted for half of Malaysia's total exports.
Azrul said that stronger commodity prices had so far helped cushion the decline in the value of E&E exports.
Another economist with a local stockbroking house said the huge surplus reported in January was largely driven by stronger exports coupled with lower import demand from local manufacturers.
He concurred with Azrul that the lower import demand by local manufacturers gave the impression that they were easing back their operations, which may result in slower exports growth in the coming months.
Trade figures in the first three months are usually volatile. We have to wait until March to see the actual trend for the rest of the year,'' the economist said.
Miti said Asean, the US, the European Union, Japan, Hong Kong and China were the top destinations for Malaysian exports in January, with a combined contribution of 79.6% to the country's total export earnings.
Exports to Asean grew 15.4% in January, accounting for 26.9% or RM8.2bil of total exports.
Of the RM1.8bil increase in January, exports to Asean countries accounted for RM1.1bil,'' Miti added.
Exports to the US (RM5.1bil) and the European Union (RM4.1bil) grew 4.9% and 13.4% respectively compared with December.
On the other hand, total imports in January saw a marginal increase of 0.4% to RM24.1bil from December 2002 due to higher imports of intermediate goods.