SEOUL South Korea's exports rose in November for the first time since August and at the fastest pace in nearly two years, potentially signaling a turnaround in global demand for Korean goods.
Exports handily beat analysts' expectations, growing 2.7 percent on-year in November while imports gained 10.1 percent, preliminary data from the trade ministry showed on Thursday.
"Today's numbers are quite meaningful. In August, there was a lack of factors to ensure a sustained rise in exports, but now we have oil prices that are expected to gain further," said Lee Sang-jae, chief economist at Eugene Investment & Securities.
Lee said if the U.S. economy were to improve under a Trump administration South Korea would be able to ramp up exports in the near term, even though Trump's protectionist statements could presage a medium- to long-term trade risk.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 1.2 percent increase in exports and a 2.9 percent rise in imports.
November's exports were the highest since December 2014 when they grew 3.1 percent on-year. In October, exports and imports fell 3.2 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.
Exports to China, South Korea's biggest trading partner, expanded for the first time in 17 months. Shipments to the U.S., Japan and India also rose.
The trade surplus rose to $8.0 billion in November from a revised $6.97 billion surplus in October.
The average value of exports per working day inched up to $1.90 billion in November from a revised $1.87 billion in October, Reuters calculations showed. November this year had 1.5 more working days than October.
A private survey of South Korea's manufacturing sector out on Thursday showed new export orders rising in November to the highest since July this year, although overall activity contracted.
Risks lie ahead. At a global level, South Korea is nervously watching the U.S., its second-biggest trading partner, where Trump's election to president has created a range of policy uncertainties.
Government officials in Seoul have rushed to discuss strategies it could deploy when and if the Trump administration demands changes in the bilateral trade pact with South Korea.
South Korea has run a trade surplus with the U.S. since 1998, and it has widened significantly since the bilateral free trade agreement went into force in 2013.
It reached a record high of $25.8 billion in 2015, according the Korea International Trade Association, which has data going back to 1965.
Separate data on Thursday showed South Korea's annual inflation in November remained unchanged at an 8-month high, thanks to a jump food prices.
Inflation was at 1.3 percent on-year, unchanged from October and remaining at its highest since February this year.
(Reporting by Cynthia Kim and Christine Kim; Editing by Eric Meijer)