Asia's exports stutter, missing out on U.S. revival

Sun Aug 4, 2013 5:18pm EDT
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By Wayne Arnold and Choonsik Yoo

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The U.S. economy may have stopped sneezing, but Asia's exports are still laid up with a nasty cold.

Growth in exports from seven of East Asia's biggest exporters - Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore - slowed to a halt in the second quarter, according to national trade data compiled by Reuters, led by a 9 percent drop in exports to the European Union compared to a year earlier.

Growing trade between China and its neighbors has failed to offset a sharp decline in demand from Europe and slumping demand for things made in Japan. More troubling is that the slowdown dashes expectations earlier this year for a gathering recovery in the United States to trigger a rise in demand for Asian exports.

Exports still represent the equivalent of roughly 35 percent of the region's combined economic output. But the U.S. recovery has been led by housing and shale-gas investment, not demand for the electronics Asia's factories supply.

That could make it harder for Asia's economies to weather rising global interest rates and a westward migration of international investment funds. While foreign investors are still accumulating Japanese stocks, they have sold off roughly $12.5 billion of other Asian stocks since May, according to data from Nomura.

"The attraction for more money to be put into this region at this time is not there," said Kelvin Tay, chief investment strategist at UBS in Singapore. "We're caught in the middle of nowhere."


The trade numbers contain some notable surprises: though Japan's falling yen has made its export earnings swell when measured in its own currency, demand remains weak and its exports in U.S. dollar terms fell 14 percent in the second quarter.   Continued...

A worker walks past trucks as they line up to load containers onto a ship at a port in Ningbo, Zhejiang province in this July 9, 2013 file photograph. REUTERS/William Hong/Files