UPDATE 1-S.Korea revised Jan exports down record 33.8 pct

Sun Feb 15, 2009 10:56pm EST

(Adds won, economic growth)

SEOUL Feb 16 (Reuters) - South Korean exports in January performed worse than initially estimated as revised figures from the customs agency showed on Monday overseas shipments for the month dropped a record 33.8 percent from a year earlier.

That was worse than a provisional 32.8 percent annual drop reported in provisional figures released on Feb. 2 by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy and showed once again the global recession was deepening.

Imports for January were revised to 31.9 percent less than a year earlier from a provisional 32.1 percent decline, the Korea Customs Service data showed.

The revised export and import figures produced a trade deficit of $3.36 billion, bigger than a provisional $2.97 billion shortfall reported earlier, the data showed.

The revised trade figures dealt a further blow to the already weak won KRW=, driving the currency down to as low as 1,415.6 per dollar, its weakest level in nearly 10 weeks, from Friday's close of 1,404.2.

Exports to China, South Korea's biggest market, fell a record 38.6 percent in January from a year earlier. Exports to the United States dropped 27.8 percent over a year before, marking the sharpest annual loss since December 2001.

The data comes after the central bank slashed interest rates by 50 basis points to a record-low 2.0 percent on Thursday last week, its sixth rate cut in four months aimed at pulling Asia's fourth-largest economy away from a looming recession.

The figures also place President Lee Myung-bak's government under more pressure to adopt additional stimulus measures to revive domestic demand to cushion the impact of shrinking global appetite for South Korean goods.

South Korea's new finance minister, Yoon Jeung-hyun, warned on his inauguration day last week that the local economy would contract by 2 percent this year, sharply cutting the ministry's previous forecast of 3 percent growth.

Many private-sector experts are more pessimistic, with brokerages such as CLSA predicting a contraction of as much as 7 percent this year, which would be the worst performance in the country's nearly 40-year period of industrialisation.

Minister Yoon promised to submit to parliament additional spending plans by next month. (Reporting by Yoo Choonsik; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)

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