Thai Jan exports fall 5.7 pct y/y, a bigger drop than forecast

BANGKOK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Thailand’s customs-cleared exports dropped for a third straight month in January, falling a more-than expected 5.65 percent from a year earlier, the commerce ministry said on Friday.

Analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted a 1 percent slip in exports, a key driver of Thai growth.

In December, shipments contracted 1.72 percent from a year earlier.

The export decline in January was due to falling shipments of rice, electronics, gold and cars, the ministry said.

Exports to the United States rose 8.3 percent in January from a year earlier but ones to China slumped 16.7 percent.

The strong baht, Asia’s best performing currency this year, has increasingly hurt exports, particularly rice orders, a ministry official said.

In January, imports surprisingly jumped 13.99 percent from a year earlier, after sliding 8.15 percent in December. The poll forecast was for a 1.0 percent decline in January. Officials said the import surge was due to imports of arms and military weapons for drills.

For January, there was a trade deficit of $4.03 billion, compared with a forecast of a $320 million surplus, and December’s $1.06 billion surplus.

The ministry has forecast export growth of 8 percent this year after a 6.7 percent increase in 2018. ($1 = 31.25 baht) (Reporting by Kitiphong Thaichareon Writing by Orathai Sriring Editing by)