The country's November exports rose 8% to RM56.86bil compared with a year ago on a surge in demand from Japan, higher commodity prices and an increase in demand for manufactured goods.
October's exports growth was revised to 15.4% year-on-year from 15.8%.
Data released by the Statistics Department showed imports grew 8.4% to RM47.38bil and total trade expanded by 8.2% to RM104.24bil. Exports to Japan jumped 30.2% to RM7.59bil while exports to China grew 3.3% to RM7.32bil but was 13.3% lower compared with October.
Exports to Thailand and Singapore decreased 5.3% and 2.7% respectively although this was offset by significant increases to other Asean trade partners.
The exports data was considerably lower than the 12.9% median estimates of economists in a Bloomberg survey and followed a day after data was released on November's factory output, which saw the industrial production index (IPI) edged up 1.8%, lower than economists' median expectations for a 3.5% growth in manufacturing activity.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said in the same Statistics Department announcement that on a month-on-month basis, exports, imports and total trade in November 2011 were lower by 10.2%, 5.3% and 8.1%, respectively.
Mustapa said year-to-date, almost all major markets registered an increase in exports, except for the United States. “The sluggish growth and poor demand in the United States caused exports to decline by 5.8% during this period to RM52.52bil.”
Nomura Singapore Ltd economist Euben Paracuelles told StarBiz that the leading indicators showed that exports not just from Malaysia but across the region were headed for a steep decline.
“November's exports data is not really surprising given Malaysia's exports mix with reliance on electrical and electronics (E&E) exports. This is not only confined to Malaysia but exports in the region have weakened,” he said.
Singapore's electronics exports had a marginal 0.1% gain in November year-on-year after plunging 31.2% the previous month. China's November exports grew 13.8% from 15.9% in October and, similarly, India's exports grew 3.9% year-on-year from a 10.8% rise in October.
United Overseas Bank Ltd economist Ho Woei Chen expects a bottoming out of manufacturing activity towards the end of the first quarter this year. “An 8% rise in exports is still decent but the IPI shows that there will be a further drag on exports from the decline in E&E demand,” she said.
Ho said any rebound would be slow and dependent on recovery in Europe.
Economists at Barclays Capital said in a report that the exports momentum had bottomed out but was unlikely to rise significantly in the near term. “Indeed, major industrial sectors, including electronics continue to underperform, given weak demand from developed markets,” they said, adding that palm oil exports had also weakened, given export volumes amid weather disruptions despite a 15% rise in prices since September.