South Korea Returns to Current-Account Surplus in February

South Korea returned to a current-account surplus in February as exports rose amid signs of an improving U.S. economy and as the euro zone debt crisis eased.

The surplus was $639 million, compared with a revised $969 million deficit in January, the Bank of Korea said in Seoul today. The current account is the broadest measure of trade, tracking goods, services and investment income.

South Korean manufacturers’ confidence rose to the highest level in six months and the consumer sentiment index climbed to a four-month high on signs that the outlook for global growth is improving. While the European Central Bank’s injection of more than 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) into the banking system has calmed markets, the best six months of job growth since 2006 in the U.S. are boosting the optimism of consumers whose spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

“Global recession fears are fading, which bodes well for Korean exporters,” Kong Dong Rak, a Seoul-based fixed-income analyst at Taurus Investment & Securities Co., said before the release. “Unless oil prices jump further too much, South Korea will continue to see a trade surplus, which should help boost the won.”

The won slid 0.1 percent to close at 1,135.40 per dollar in Seoul yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Kospi Index lost 0.4 percent.

Traded Goods Surplus

The surplus on traded goods was $1.4 billion last month, compared with a revised $1.6 billion deficit in January, today’s report showed.

Total exports on a customs-cleared basis rose 20.6 percent from a year earlier to $46.4 billion in February, according to today’s statement. Imports increased 23.3 percent to $44.9 billion on higher oil prices.

Overseas shipments may rise 1.3 percent in March from a year ago, according to a median estimate of 11 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The BOK forecast in December that the economy will grow 3.7 percent in 2012 and 4.2 percent in 2013. The country’s current-account surplus is expected to narrow to $13 billion this year from $26.5 billion in 2011, according to the projections.

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