Taiwan Economy Grew Slowest Since 2009

Taiwan’s economy expanded at the slowest pace in more than two years, giving the central bank more reason to extend an interest-rate pause to support domestic spending and investment.

Gross domestic product rose 1.9 percent in the three months through December from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said in a preliminary report in Taipei today. Growth was the slowest since a 1.41 percent contraction in the third quarter of 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The median estimate of nine economists in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 2.8 percent expansion.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who won re-election on Jan. 14, has promoted Vice Premier Sean Chen, a former deputy finance minister, to the post of premier in a sign he plans to focus on reviving growth in the island in his second term. Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis is hurting Asian exporters from Singapore to South Korea, and policy makers have either cut borrowing costs or refrained from further increases in recent meetings.

“Forward-looking export orders suggest demand is still weak, condemning Taiwan to a weak first quarter in 2012,” Katrina Ell, a Sydney-based economist at Moody’s Analytics Australia Pty Ltd., said before the data release. “We expect rates will remain on hold in March.”

Taiwan’s central bank will keep the discount rate on 10-day loans to banks unchanged at 1.875 percent through the middle of next year, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

The benchmark Taiex stock index ended 1.5 percent higher before the data. It lost 21 percent last year, the worst decline since 2008.

Technical Recession

The economy contracted 0.25 percent last quarter from the prior three months, shrinking for a second successive quarter and pushing the economy into a technical recession, today’s report showed.

GDP grew 4.03 percent in 2011, compared with the 4.51 percent pace forecast by the statistics bureau earlier. The agency cut the forecast for this year to 3.91 percent from 4.19 percent previously.

Inflation in 2012 may be 1.29 percent, it said, compared with an earlier projection of 1.14 percent. Exports may grow 4.97 percent this year, compared with a previous estimate of 5.27 percent, the statistics bureau said.

Exports Slow

Overseas sales, which are equivalent to about two-thirds of Taiwan’s economy, rose at the slowest pace in 26 months in December. Export orders, an indication of shipments in the next one to three months, fell last month for the first time since 2009 as demand from China and Japan declined.

“The external outlook remains extremely challenging, especially for the first quarter,” Donna Kwok, a Hong Kong- based economist at HSBC Holdings Plc, said before the release. “Euro-zone demand continues to worsen as the region slips into outright recession. If growth continues to worsen faster than expected, a 12-basis-point rate cut remains on the cards for the central bank in March.”

Slowing overseas demand is already affecting Taiwan’s manufacturers and the nation’s job market.

HTC Corp. (2498), Asia’s second-largest smartphone maker, this month reported its first quarterly profit decline in two years. Nanya Technology Corp. and Inotera Memories Inc., (3474) Taiwan’s second- and third-largest memory-chip makers, reported their eighth quarter of losses as slowing demand for personal computers pushed down prices.

A total of 91 companies reached agreements with 11,630 workers to take leave without pay as of Jan. 15, the Council of Labor Affairs said this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chinmei Sung in Taipei at csung4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang in Singapore at sphang@bloomberg.net

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