South Korea's May 1-20 exports tumble 20.3%, rate slower than April

FILE PHOTO: A truck drives between shipping containers at a container terminal at Incheon port in Incheon, South Korea, May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean exports for the first 20 days of May tumbled 20.3% from the same period a year earlier, as U.S.- and E.U.-bound shipments continued to collapse, highlighting the damage on global demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

But that decline was milder than the 27.6% drop over April 1-20, and analysts are predicting that trade data may have bottomed out as the country’s trading partners ease coronavirus lockdowns.

Monthly trade data from Asia’s fourth-largest economy is considered a bellwether for world trade as it is the first to be released among major exporting nations.

Imports sank 16.9% - versus 18.5% a month earlier - resulting in a provisional trade deficit of $2.68 billion for the period, the Korea Customs Service data showed on Thursday.

“Exports look like they’re faring better than last month. It’s possible exports bottomed out in April,” said economist Chun Kyu-yeon at Hana Financial Investment. “Quick recovery in China and Korea is pushing up production.”

Shipments to South Korea’s biggest trading partner, China, fell only 1.7% on year as factories there resumed operation, while those to the United States and the European Union dropped 27.9% and 18.4% respectively.

By item, overseas sales of semiconductors - the nation’s top-selling product - soared 13.4%, whereas exports of mobile devices and cars collapsed 11.2% and 58.6% respectively.

Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Additional reporting by Yena Park; Editing by Kim Coghill and Christopher Cushing