* Taiwan Feb exports jump 24.9% y/y on low base, chip demand
* Taiwan took $1.5-1.8 billion hit on Feb exports due to virus
* Export-reliant economy sees uncertainly ahead (Adds comments from finance ministry official, stock market close, byline)
By Liang-sa Loh and Yimou Lee
TAIPEI, March 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s exports unexpectedly leapt in February on strong sales of chips and telecommunication equipment, but the government warned of uncertainty ahead for the trade-reliant economy due to the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.
Exports were up 24.9% from a year earlier at $25.4 billion in February, the best growth rate since September 2017, data from the finance ministry showed on Monday.
A Reuters poll had forecast flat growth. In January, exports dropped by 7.6%.
The February figures come off a low base, as the traditional week-long Lunar New Year holiday fell in February last year, meaning there were fewer working days.
In China, where the epidemic has killed over 3,000 and infected more than 80,000 people, exports tumbled in the first two months of the year as the outbreak and government containment measures crippled factory production and led to a slump in demand.
Taiwan’s finance ministry said the growth outlook for the coming months was “unclear” due to the virus, which it said could limit export growth in the first and second quarter.
Taiwan took a $1.5-1.8 billion hit on exports from the impact of the new coronavirus in February, the ministry said.
Beatrice Tsai, head of the ministry’s department of statistics, told reporters that Taiwan’s March exports were expected to decline 2% to 5% compared with the year-ago period.
Exports to the United States and Japan hit record highs by value in the first two months of 2020, thanks to strong demand for telecommunications and semiconductor products, the ministry added.
Taiwan’s exports are a key gauge of global demand for technology gadgets worldwide.
Taiwan, whose largest trading partner is China, cut its estimate for 2020 economic growth to 2.37% last month as the outbreak threatened its economy.
The island has readied a T$60 billion ($2 billion) stimulus package to help soften the impact of the virus impact on the economy.
Some Taiwan manufacturers have already felt the pinch. Apple’s manufacturing partner Foxconn last week reported its biggest monthly drop in revenue in about seven years as the coronavirus outbreak played havoc with its business.
Taiwan’s key stock index closed down 3% on Monday, at its lowest level since October, on concerns over the impact of the virus on the island, though Taiwan has only reported 45 cases.
Foreign investors sold T$54.6 billion ($1.82 billion) of Taiwan stocks on Monday, according to the Taiwan Stock Exchange, the largest single day outflow since the 2008 financial crisis. ($1 = 30.0660 Taiwan dollars) (Reporting by Liang-sa Loh and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Louise Heavens & Simon Cameron-Moore)