By Hayoung Choi
SEOUL - South Korea's exports fell the most in over two years in September, but the decline was likely due to fewer working days rather than a drop in demand for the country's goods amid rising global trade frictions.
Indeed, South Korea's shipments still appear resilient based on average exports per working day, which increased. And an earlier preliminary reading had pointed to solid double-digit growth in the first few weeks of September.
The rate of decline in the headline export reading was the sharpest since July 2016, and undershot a Reuters survey, where 11 economists forecast a 5.7 percent decrease from a year earlier.
By value, exports stood at $50.6 billion, way below August's $51.2 billion, preliminary data showed on Monday.
Imports fell 2.1 percent to $40.8 billion, also underperforming the survey that predicted 3.1 percent growth. That led to a preliminary trade surplus of $9.7 billion, up from $6.9 billion in August.
Still, analysts believe South Korea's export growth trend remains intact, citing a rise in average exports per working day to $2.6 billion, from $2.1 billion in August.
There were only 19.5 working days in September this year because of the Chuseok holiday from Sept. 24 to 26, four fewer days than last year.
"It's premature to worry about trade, though anxieties due to U.S.-Sino trade friction and instabilities from emerging markets exist," Lee Sang-jae, an analyst at Eugene Investment & Securities, said before the data release.
Park Sang-hyun, an economist with Leading Investment and Securities, said exports in October would jump significantly as there are more working days this month.
Exports in the first 20 days of September rose 21.6 percent year-on-year, according to the Korea Customs Service. Brisk sales of memory chips and petroleum goods helped the expansion.
South Korean exports from January to September grew 4.7 percent in annual terms, but policymakers have worried that Sino-U.S. trade war may inflict collateral damage on the export-oriented economy.
(Reporting by Hayoung Choi; Editing by Kim Coghill)