MALAYSIA'S manufacturing sector sales rose 13.5% to RM29.4bil in February against RM25.9bil a year ago. But it was 0.7% lower than the RM29.6bil achieved in January.
Economists said although it had dropped for the second consecutive month, the sales figure was good and reflected the recovery of the country's exports and strong domestic demand.
“The manufacturing sales number is quite impressive and the growth is strong, given that February is a shorter month and also the traditional weak month,'' said SBB Securities economist Manokaran Mottain. “The slight month-on-month drop is not a (cause for) worry.''
An economist with a leading stockbroking firm said the growth was stronger at nearly 17% in February if the seasonal factors were stripped off.
Manufacturing sales have registered double-digit growth since September last year when the economy started healing after the SARS outbreak.
Economists believe that such growth trend will continue for the rest of the year against the backdrop of an expanding global economy, which will boost demand for exports.
Consequently, they are also expecting higher annual sales in the manufacturing sector this year.
“The double-digit growth in the manufacturing sector will be sustainable as the global economy gains momentum,'' said Mayban Securities economist Saifuddin Morat.
According to the Statistics Department, the manufacturing sector recorded a cumulative sales value of RM58.9bil in the first two months, an increase of 11.8% or RM6.2bil over RM52.7bil in the previous corresponding period.
Besides, it said the manufacturing sector hired 33,749 more employees in February, making total employment at 1.008 million, or 3.5% higher compared with 974,394 a year ago.
However, the February employment figure dropped 0.4% or 4,539 persons against the monthly employment of 1.012 million in January.
Statistics also showed that manufacturers paid RM1.66bil for salary and wages in February, representing an increase of 8.5% or RM130mil from RM1.53bil a year ago.
But the amount paid was lower compared with January when a total of RM1.71bil was disbursed.
Total salaries and wages paid out during the first two months rose 9.7% or RM300mil to RM3.4bil from RM3.1bil in the previous corresponding period.
Economists noted that the employment figure in the manufacturing sector, which accounted for more than 20% of the country's labour force, was encouraging.
“The healthy employment trend indicates the improving economic growth has started to filter through to the labour market,'' said an economist.