The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on June 1 that Korea’s exports grew 13.5 percent year-on-year to USD 50.9 billion in May.
The growth rate turned to double digits for the first time since January 2018. In terms of volume, the May figures recorded the fifth largest monthly export figures ever.
Average daily exports rose 10.8 percent year-on-year to $2.4 billion, returning to growth from a decline seen in last month's year-on-year figure.
The cumulative volume of exports from January to May rose 8.2 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, hitting a record high of $246.4 billion.
Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Paik Ungyu said that this is the first time that monthly outbound shipments surpassed $50 billion for three consecutive months, and added that a continuing overall upward trend has been observed in exports.
A closer look at May exports shows that nine out of Korea’s 13 major export items saw growth: semiconductors, computers, general machinery, petrochemicals, petroleum products, automobiles, auto parts, wireless communication devices, and textiles. Among these, seven items saw double-digit growth.
Exports of semiconductors rose 44.5 percent to $10.9 billion, hitting a record high in terms of volume. Strong demand for server memory and inventory expansion among Chinese manufacturers of finished goods prior to the release of new products attributed to the growth.
Exports of computers grew 28.7 percent thanks to higher demand for solid–state devices (SSDs) that are used for large-scale data processing and storage at the corporate level, as well as a growing demand for computer parts for personal computers.
General machinery saw a 15.8 percent growth in exports as major economies, such as the U.S. and China, saw healthy construction and manufacturing sectors and started to expand investment into infrastructure. Exports of general machinery were more than $4 billion for the third straight month now.
Petrochemical exports rose 26.8 percent thanks to higher oil prices and the consequential rise in prices. Strong demand across China, ASEAN, India and Japan was also favorable for growth, leading to more than $4 billion in exports over six straight months for the first time ever.
Petroleum products posted a 37.6 percent growth in exports. Despite the volume of exports being smaller due to regular maintenance at refineries, exports saw overall growth thanks mainly to higher oil prices.
Automobile exports grew 1.9 percent as environmentally friendly vehicles and SUVs, often sold at higher prices, sold well in markets across the EU, the Middle East and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This offset weaker exports to the U.S. market.
Auto part exports saw a 14.7 percent increase. This was led by a recovery in sales of Korean cars in Chinese markets, along with the release of new models. Increased exports to emerging markets, such as the Middle East and India, and low exports from a year earlier also contributed to the growth figure.
Wireless communication devices saw growth for the first time in 26 months, posting a 2.4 percent rise in year-on-year exports in May. The release of new smartphone models made by domestic manufacturers and the increase in exports of those new smartphones to the U.S. and other markets led to the growth, despite some unfavorable factors, such as slowing demand for smartphones and fiercer competition in global smartphone markets.
Textiles showed a 12.8 percent growth in exports. Though the unit prices for export items remained the same as last year, exports grew modestly thanks to higher consumption of clothing in advanced economies, such as the U.S., the EU and Japan.
Meanwhile, exports of display panels, home appliances, ships and steel products all saw declines.
Among outbound shipments of high-value, high-tech products of which the Ministry keeps track, exports of multi-chip packages (MCP) and solid state devices (SSD) both recorded double-digit growth in exports, while those of organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) saw a decline of 18.2 percent.
MCP exports grew 20.2 percent, mainly due to continued expansion of semiconductor usage and storage capacity. SSDs saw 12.5 percent growth, largely because of higher demand for SSDs at the corporate level, as well for personal computers, along with the launch of new models.
By region, exports to most regions grew, except for exports to ASEAN, Vietnam and the Middle East. Exports to China (30.0 percent), the U.S. (11.8 percent), Japan (16.2 percent), India (18.9 percent), and the CIS (37.4 percent) all posted double-digit growth.
Imports in May rose 12.6 percent year-on-year to $44.3 billion, mostly led by oil (up 38.3 percent), computer storage devices (up 120.9 percent), and liquefied natural gas (up 32.1 percent).