* July export orders up 5.7 pct y/y vs 7.3 pct in Reuters poll
* Orders from China jump 9.2 pct y/y, U.S. rise 1.5 pct
* Govt warns of uncertainty from some product launches (Adds analyst comment, details on companies)
By J.R. Wu and Faith Hung
TAIPEI, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s export orders grew less than expected in July even as factories rushed output ahead of new smartphone launches, pointing to erratic demand in some of its major markets.
Upcoming launches, particularly Apple Inc’s anticipated iPhone 6 smartphone, are expected to bolster Taiwan’s economic growth this year amid a patchy global recovery. The island’s manufacturers are hopeful recovering growth momentum in the United States will counter economic weakness in China and Europe.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs, however, sounded a warning about potential delays in orders for the current quarter.
“Third-quarter orders for handheld devices could be hit due to uncertainty resulting from some companies’ product launches,” the ministry said in a statement, without providing further detail. “But we’re still optimistic about the H2 outlook.”
July export orders rose 5.7 percent from a year earlier, below a median 7.3 percent gain estimated in a Reuters poll. June’s 10.6 percent rise was the fastest pace in 1-1/2 years.
Orders from the United States slowed to 1.5 percent in July from 6.7 percent growth in June, while orders from China also eased to 9.2 percent growth from 14.5 percent. They are Taiwan’s two biggest markets.
Analysts largely downplayed the weaker July growth figure noting that the slowdown could be due to semiconductors or the volatile nature of products being shipped in large batches.
“We’re either looking at Apple-related orders being less than expected or some other factor that has offset otherwise strong Apple orders,” said analyst Anita Hsu of Masterlink Securities Investment Advisory in Taipei.
“A likely culprit could be semiconductors, as the comparison period last year was already very high. But Apple-related orders for the entire third quarter should be enough to offset this and there’s still a distinct chance that this strength will be reflected in August’s number since this month was weak.”
The value of orders last month was considered acceptable at US$38.18 billion, compared with June’s US$38.82 billion.
“As export orders were stable in July and demand from China improved, we are optimistic about Taiwan’s H2 economic outlook,” ANZ said in a research report.
Taiwan’s export orders are seen as a leading indicator of demand for Asia’s exports and hi-tech devices, and typically can lead actual exports by two to three months.
Economists expect momentum to sustain through the second half of the year although it may be too soon to tell how much the orders will translate into actual exports. Export order data includes those from Taiwan-owned factories abroad, such as in mainland China, while exports capture only domestic shipments.
The so-called Apple effect has become a key driver for Taiwan tech companies and, in turn, the macroeconomy as local firms will be manufacturing a bulk of components and accessories for Apple’s new iPhone 6.
Last week, the government raised its outlook for 2014 economic growth to 3.41 percent from its preliminary estimate of 2.98 percent, citing optimism for iPhone 6 demand.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Science and Technology said on Wednesday that the combined revenue of companies headquartered in Taiwan’s three main science and technology parks - the island’s answer to Silicon Valley - hit an all-time high in the first six months of this year.
The 31 companies, which includes the world’s largest contract chip manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), earned a total of T$1.06 trillion ($35.4 billion) in the January to June period, according to ministry data, a 0.14 percent rise over the same six months of last year.
TSMC’s July revenue has already hit record levels, while Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd recorded its third straight quarterly profit growth in the second quarter. Pegatron Corp has said that it expects its revenue to rise sharply in the current quarter from assembling communication devices, such as advanced smarthphones.
All three manufacturers are suppliers to Apple.
Additional reporting by Michael Gold; Editing by Jacqueline Wong