PH October imports at 4-mo high; demand still slow

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The country’s imports in October climbed 4.3 percent from a year earlier, the fastest rise in four months, but there was no sign of a major rebound in trade with overall external demand remaining weak.

The year-to-date import bill likewise dampened hopes that the Philippines would meet the 12 percent imports growth target for 2012, according to economists.

The National Statistics Office on Friday said the value of the inbound shipments in October alone increased to $5.24 billion from $5.024 billion recorded in the same month last year.

The government attributed this slight growth to the increase in the shipping of mineral fuels, cereals and related products, transport telecommunication equipment, electrical and industrial machinery and electronic products.

Payments for electronics, which accounted for one-fourth of the total import bill, rose by 8.7 percent to $1.345 billion from $1.237 billion in October 2011.

The electronics sector, which assembles components for shipment later, expects its exports to be flat this year on slow demand mainly from its traditional markets in the West, though it sees modest growth in 2013.

On the other hand, purchases of mineral fuels and lubricants, which is the country’s second biggest import, slowed down by 7.5 percent from $1.159 billion in October 2011 to $1.073 billion.

“The monthly imports numbers indicate a great deal of volatility and pointing to an almost flat growth rate … I don’t see how the October growth can be sustained in the next few months,” Benjamin Diokno of the UP School of Economics said in an e-mail.

He explained that as of October, imports registered a marginal uptick of 0.9 percent, which should be seen as a “a sharp departure from the annual imports target of 12 percent.”

On a full-year basis, Diokno said he expected imports to grow by less than 2 percent, which is far below the government’s 12 percent target.

But the trade picture may be slightly better next year than this year, especially with an expected recovery in the United States.

The United States was the country’s top import source in October, accounting for 11.5 percent of total purchases, with shipments of mainly semiconductors and cereals rising 22.3 percent from a year ago.

The second biggest import source was China with an 11.3 percent share, with shipments up 23.3 percent comprising mostly telecommunications equipment and electrical machinery.

Imports from Eastern Asia—the top import source by economic bloc, accounting for 40 percent of total shipments, were up 7.9 percent in October from a year earlier.

Southeast Asia and the European Union were the second and third top economic blocs. Nina P. Calleja with a report from Reuters.

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