* Jan exports fall 5.3 pct vs rise of 0.45 pct in Reuters poll
* Exports to China down 10.3 pct y/y
* U.S. exports up 4.6 pct y/y, Europe up 0.4 pct y/y
* Imports contract 15.2 pct, twice as much as expected
By Jeanny Kao and Faith Hung
TAIPEI, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Taiwan's exports unexpectedly fell in January, hit by erratic global demand for its pivotal hi-tech products and a slump in shipments to China, its largest market.
The decline in exports adds to worrisome signs about the economy in China, a major importer of parts and goods from Asia's exporting nations.
But the figures may have been skewed to some degree by the timing of the long Lunar New Year holiday, which started in late January this year but in February last year. Many plants and offices close for lengthy periods during the holiday.
"January's exports were below expectations, mostly affected by the Chinese New Year," said Taishin Securities Investment Advisory economist Kevin Wang.
"After adjusting for fewer work days, exports last month would be flat from a year ago, reflecting that the holiday season has affected January the most. So February will have a relatively better performance."
Wang did not expect the central bank to make any changes to monetary policy in the short term as exports were still weak overall and prices continued to be at low levels.
Taiwan's annual exports fell 5.3 percent in January compared with a median growth forecast of 0.45 percent in a Reuters poll of 12 analysts.
That compared with revised growth of 0.7 percent in October, 3.4 percent in November and 1.2 percent in December, adjusted from previous declines. Taiwan's finance ministry had revised up fourth quarter trade to growth from decline last month, citing system errors that had resulted in missing export data.
Taiwan's finance ministry blamed January's slide on three fewer working days in the month compared with 2013 and a higher base last year.
"We expect the export value of January-February together to be higher than the same period a year ago," it said.
Exports to China sank 10.3 percent from a year earlier, while those to the United States rose by 4.6 percent, data from the ministry showed on Monday. Exports to Europe inched up 0.4 percent, and rose 4.8 percent to Japan.
Taiwan's imports in January declined 15.2 percent year-on-year, bringing the trade balance to $2.97 billion from $1.41 billion in December. Economists had expected imports to contract 7.1 percent.
While actual exports have been relatively sluggish, reflecting the impact of manufacturing moving offshore to especially China, export orders have shown signs of resilience.
But more evidence of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy will deepen the pain of Asian exporters. China's export and import growth is likely to have slowed in January, a Reuters poll showed on Monday.
Taiwan's tech industry, the main driver of the island's export machine, has been facing upheaval from changing consumer tastes worldwide and the commoditisation of formerly high-growth smartphones and tablets.
Once-ascendant Taiwanese smartphone brand HTC Corp , a notable casualty of this shift, said on Monday that January sales fell 37.8 percent from a year earlier to T$9.67 billion (US$319.23 million)
Compal Electronics Inc, the world's second-largest contract manufacturer of laptop computers, on Monday reported a 6.5 percent year-on-year fall in January sales.