* Exports in May total $5.48 bln vs yr-ago $5.13 bln
* Electronic shipments down 1.6 pct from year ago
* January to May exports up 5.8 pct from year ago
(Adds milestone, analyst comments)
MANILA, July 10 Philippine exports reached their
highest value in at least 17 months in May, supporting forecasts
of robust growth for one of Southeast Asia's fastest growing
economies and giving the central bank more leeway to tighten
policy to dampen inflation.
Exports in May rose 6.9 percent from a year earlier, with
shipments for the month reaching $5.48 billion, the highest
value since January 2013, the statistics office said on
Thursday, citing available data.
The statistics office revised the trade data series for the
whole of 2013, but has yet to release revisions for years 2012
Shipments to Japan, the country's top export destination,
were up 6.1 percent in May from a year earlier, while those to
China and United States climbed 51.3 percent and 9.2 percent,
Overall exports grew 5.8 percent in January to May from the
same period a year earlier.
Analysts said the better-than-expected export performance
bodes well for economic growth in the second quarter, after
growth in the first three months of the year missed
"The export numbers will give the central bank even more
confidence to tighten monetary policy," said Emilio Neri,
economist at Bank of the Philippine Islands.
"They will have a freer hand to pursue that mandate since
the external side is showing signs of recovery," said Neri,
adding the central bank could move as early as this month.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco said on
Wednesday the central bank will not hesitate to tweak monetary
policy to ensure inflation remains within target. It next meets
on July 31 to review policy.
The BSP has taken several modest steps to tighten liquidity
and tamp down price pressures so far this year, but some
economists believe its next step will be more forceful: a hike
in its policy rate from the current record low of 3.5 percent.
Growth in May exports was led by shipments of mineral
products, coconut oil, metal components, woodcrafts and
furniture, machinery and transport equipment, which helped
offset a 1.6 percent annual decline in electronics shipments.
The country provides about 10 percent of the world's
semiconductor manufacturing services, including for mobile phone
chips and micro processors.
"In the first few months of this year, the story for the
Philippines is that it has been outperforming its regional peers
as far as exports are concerned, benefiting from improved
external demand more than other countries," said Euben
Paracuelles, economist at Nomura in Singapore.
"The electronics sector is important. It has experienced a
soft patch, but again external demand still seems to be stronger
and that should bode well for the sector."
The electronics industry group has said it was sticking to
its 5 percent growth for the sector this year, with expectations
of a pick-up in global demand.
The economy unexpectedly grew at its slowest pace in two
years to 5.7 percent in the first quarter, hurt by the impact of
last year's super typhoon Haiyan. Manila is targeting growth of
6.5-7.5 percent this year.
The government kept its 2014 export growth estimate at 6
percent, but lifted its import projection to 9 percent from 6
percent on anticipation of high inflows of construction
materials for rebuilding after the typhoon.
Annual inflation in the Philippines averaged 4.2 percent in
the first half of the year, above the midpoint of the central
bank's 3-5 percent target for the year on the back of rising
food and transport costs.
(Reporting by Erik dela Cruz and Siegfrid Alegado; Writing by
Karen Lema; Editing by Kim Coghill)