MANILA (UPDATE) - Philippine exports rose at their fastest pace in more than three years in February, government data showed on Thursday, driven by robust shipments of electronics and a rising contribution from industrial manufacturing.
Total exports in February jumped 24.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest gain since December 2010, the statistics agency said. Electronics exports jumped 26.6 percent year-on-year, their fastest growth since October 2010.
February also marked the third straight month in which exports from the electronics/semiconductors category - which makes up at least two-fifths of total exports - recorded growth of more than 20 percent growth.
Still, net exports are unlikely to power overall growth this year because of a higher import bill, with imports of rice and construction materials for rebuilding after last year's super typhoon seen keeping the trade account in deficit.
"Exports were not only helped by a low base, goods are also seeing demand overseas, especially in the euro zone and in Japan. Exports will continue to be positive but not as strong as the first two months," said Trinh Nguyen, an economist at HSBC in Hong Kong.
"Net exports will not contribute much to growth, because imports are also higher due to reconstruction and rehabilitation from Haiyan, and government rice imports," she said.
Imports rose 21.8 percent year-on-year in January, the biggest increase in almost three years. Import data for February will be released later this month.
The central bank sees both exports and imports rising 6 percent this year, according to its latest estimates.
The Philippines expects its economy to grow 6.5 to 7.5 percent this year after expanding 7.2 percent in 2013, the fastest in the region after China.
In a breakdown of the electronics/semiconductors category, exports of electronic data processing goods posted annual growth of 312 percent, while communications and radar jumped 84 percent in February. But exports of semiconductors, the country's top export product, fell 0.5 percent.
The Southeast Asian nation provides about 10 percent of the world's semiconductor manufacturing services, including for mobile phone chips and micro processors.
Other products contributed to overall exports in February, with exports of woodcrafts and furniture rising 56 percent from a year earlier, machinery and transport equipment up 92 percent and chemicals up 66 percent.
"There is a clear rebound in Philippine exports and it has been clear that there is a strengthening trend since about mid last year," said Vaninder Singh, economist for Southeast Asia at RBS Markets & International Banking in Singapore, adding that growth was largely due to better electronics exports and the emergence of new industries like chemicals.
"In essence, the manufacturing base in the Philippines is getting stronger," he said.