UPDATE 1-Singapore exports tumble, shipments to China rebound

* Feb non-oil exports fall 24 pct y/y, better than expected

* Feb exports in surprise 1.8 pct rise m/m s/adj

* Exports to China grow as others markets still falling

* Weaker monetary policy seen in April (Updates throughout)

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

SINGAPORE, March 17 (Reuters) - Singapore’s key exports fell for the 10th straight month in February due to the global slowdown, but shipments to China rebounded, offering signs that the world’s third biggest economy may be headed for a recovery.

Non-oil exports tumbled 23.7 percent last month from a year earlier, after plunging a record 34.9 percent plunge in January, leading economists to predict monetary policy easing to support the export-dependent country through the financial crisis.

But in contrast to fellow Asian exporters, shipments to China rose 8.4 percent in February, following a 52 percent decline in January, thanks to a rise in higher shipments of civil engineering equipment parts and food.

“While it remains that China will not be able to offset the loss in demand from the other major export markets, the revival of China demand will nonetheless be a welcome cushion for the Singapore export sector,” Standard Chartered’s Alvin Liew said.

“And with the possibility of more Chinese stimulus measures on the cards, Singapore may yet be a beneficiary of the Chinese fiscal expansionary measures,” the economist said.

Latest data showed South Korea’s exports to China fell 13.4 percent in February while those from Taiwan slid 25 percent. Japanese exports to China tumbled 45 percent in January.

But Singapore’s shipments to its major Western markets remained weak, with those to the United States and Europe falling 44 percent and 37 percent respectively.

February exports rose a surprise 1.8 percent from the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis, following the previous month’s 3.3 percent decrease.

Exports for the first two months of 2009 reported a 30.2 percent plunge in value from a year ago, evening out a potential distortion from January’s Lunar New Year.

The February figures compared with market expectations of a slide of 27.5 percent from a year ago and with a 2 percent drop from the previous month, according to a median forecast of seven economists.

For a graphic on the February exports please click on: here

Analysts believe the slower pace of contraction in January was helped by a weaker exchange rate and expect the central bank to ease it further when it meets next month to review policy.

“For the monetary authorities the goal is wide open and scoring with another dovish shot is clearly on the cards,” said Forecast economist Vishnu Varathan.

The central bank controls policy by managing the Singapore dollar SGD= against a secret basket of currencies. A weaker currency would help exporters but could lead to capital flight.

The dollar has lost over 6 percent this year on expectations of looser policy, but rose to a high of 1.5305 versus the U.S. dollar on Tuesday from 1.5335/48 before the data.

Singapore’s economy heavily depends on trade, and non-oil domestic exports were worth about 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2008.

A central bank survey on 20 private economists released on Monday expected non-oil exports to fall 17.5 percent in 2009, compared to an actual contraction of 7.9 percent in 2008. (Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Kazunori Takada)