May 31, 2017 / 10:09 AM / a year ago

Investment, exports and Melania factor boost Slovenian growth

* Q1 GDP up 5.3 pct y/y

* Foreign tourist number up 43 pct y/y in April

* Q1 jobless rate falls to 7.8 pct

By Marja Novak

LJUBLJANA, May 31 (Reuters) - Slovenia’s economy saw its strongest growth in almost ten years in the first quarter of 2017, the statistics office said, boosted by foreign investment and rising numbers of tourists visiting the home country of U.S. First Lady Melania Trump.

Growing exports also helped the economy expand by 5.3 percent year-on-year, the highest level since the second quarter of 2008, the office said on Wednesday.

The number of foreign tourists rose 43 percent in April from a year earlier, it added, accelerating a rise in visitors seen in March. Overall tourism numbers rose by 28 percent.

Analysts have said the rise in visitors is partly down to a surge of interest in Melania Trump. Domestic tourism has also been up, helped by an economic turnaround in a country which narrowly avoided an international bailout for its banks in 2013.

Economic growth reached 1.5 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous quarter, the statistics office said. Investment rose by 10.5 percent year-on-year, while exports rose by 8.7 percent, it added.

Investors said the figures indicated Slovenia’s growth could surpass the government’s forecast of 3.6 percent for 2017, versus 2.5 percent in 2016.

“New foreign investments are pushing the GDP up and we could see further growth in the coming quarters,” Marko Rozman from the treasury sector of Dezelna Banka told Reuters.

Canadian car parts maker Magna International and Japanese electrical equipment producer Yaskawa Electric both plan to build factories in Slovenia in the near future.

The statistics office also said jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent in the first quarter from 8.9 percent a year ago.

Slovenia exports more than 60 percent of its production. Exports include cars, car parts, pharmaceuticals and household appliances. (Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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