PREVIEW-S.Korea Aug trade to show economic momentum gathering pace
* Aug exports seen +4.0 pct y/y, strongest since January
* Analysts say pickup in U.S., Europe to bolster local exporters
* Data due 0000 GMT Sunday
By Se Young Lee
SEOUL, Aug 30 (Reuters) - South Korea's economy may be shifting into higher gear at last, with the country's trade engine starting to gather some momentum on the back of improving conditions in the United States and stabilisation in Europe.
Asia's fourth-largest economy has grown at a modest pace of around 2 percent in the first half, and steady offshore demand for its consumer electronic goods, memory chips and autoparts has brightened the outlook.
The median forecast in a Reuters poll of economists tips overseas shipments to grow by 4.0 percent in August form a year ago, accelerating from a revised 2.6 percent in July to mark the strongest rise since January.
Imports were forecast to rise 2.7 percent on-year this month, marking the first time since late 2012 that exports and imports grew simultaneously for two consecutive months.
To be sure, exports would need to improve substantially over the next few months before South Korea can be confident of a firm recovery in the trade sector. The August overseas shipments, for example, would have a weak comparison base from a year earlier, meaning any upside surprises should be viewed with a pinch of salt.
Still, stronger exports growth will further distinguish South Korea's trade performance from some of its regional peers like Singapore and Thailand, which saw their exports decline in annual terms in July.
"Ship exports are recovering from an extremely poor first half due to a global pickup in new orders as well as a low base effect, while a trend of economic recovery in the U.S. and Europe are leading to greater exports to these markets," said Daishin Economic Research Institute senior economist Kim Yoon-gee, adding that exports growth will accelerate in the second half.
Ship exports grew by 21.1 percent in annual terms in July, accelerating from a 9.0 percent rise seen in June and suggesting that the industry is starting to break out of its prolonged slump amid a steady flow of new orders in recent months, including for big firms like Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. and Samsung Heavy Industries Co. .
July's trade figures also showed that imports of capital goods rose by 4.4 percent in annual terms, marking the fourth consecutive month of growth and suggesting that at least some companies are beginning to invest in new manufacturing equipment.
Adding to the positive picture, South Korea's 30 largest conglomerates on Wednesday pledged to invest 92.9 trillion Korean won ($83.71 billion) and create 62,000 new jobs over the second half of this year, which may bolster the economy's ability to withstand a potential shock stemming from the U.S. Federal Reserve's expected tapering of its stimulus.
The Bank of Korea expects third quarter's sequential growth to accelerate from the seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent estimated for the April-June period. It currently forecasts 2013's annual growth at 2.8 percent compared with 2.0 percent seen last year.
The Reuters poll also sees consumer inflation accelerating to 1.5 percent in annual terms in August, which would mark the highest level since January and reaffirm expectations for a gradual rise in price pressures as the economy regains its footing. ($1 = 1109.7250 Korean won) (Reporting by Se Young Lee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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