MANILA - The expansion in the Philippines' trade deficit in January was lower than expected, as exports posted surprise growth while imports grew slower than forecast, official data released Friday showed.
Exports grew 0.5 percent from January 2017, led by gains in shipments of cathodes, gold, machine equipment, metal components and electronics, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected a 3.1-percent decline.
Imports in January grew 11.4 percent, slower than the 14.8-percent forecast in the Bloomberg poll. Industrial machinery, iron and steel, cereals, electronic products and telecommunications equipment led imports, PSA data showed.
Total external trade in January stood at $13.75 billion, with total exports worth $5.22 billion and imports worth $8.54 billion.
The balance of trade stood at a $3.32-billion deficit in January, higher than the $2.47 billion deficit during the same period last year, but below the $3.5 billion estimated by Bloomberg.
The peso fell to P52.14 in early trading Friday, from Thursday's close of P52.03. Analysts had blamed the peso's weakness this year on imports outpacing exports, as construction booms.
Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez said the widening trade deficit was not a cause for concern.
"Imports are for capital goods needed to keep the economy growing. Our economic numbers are good and these imports will contribute to continuing economic activity," Lopez said.
Lopez said it was "too early to tell" if growth in exports was slowing. Exports grew 22 percent in January 2017.
"Electronics exports remain strong. This is also why we need a competitive foreign exchange to make our exports more attractive," he said.
-- with a report from Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News