By Anuradha Raghu
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Malaysia's exports in November climbed 3.3 percent on year buoyed by stronger demand from the United States and China which helped the trade-dependent country recover from a dismal performance in the previous month.
The rise in exports beat expectations, as a Reuters poll of 14 economists had forecast export growth of 2.6 percent.
Economists said that a year-end pick up in demand from major trading partners gave the southeast Asian country the boost it needed to recover from a 3.2 percent slump in October.
'Much of the rise in exports for November could be driven by the year-end festivity related demand,' said Bank Islam chief economist Azrul Azwar Ahmad Tajudin in Kuala Lumpur.
He added that going forward in the first half of 2013, Malaysia's exports could see an 'erratic performance' but should benefit from the significant turnaround in the global economy expected in the second half of the year.
Exports account for roughly 60 percent of Malaysia's gross domestic product, making the country vulnerable to downturns in major economies.
Malaysia's exports to China rose 5.4 percent in November year-on-year due to stronger demand of chemical and rubber products, while shipments to the United States climbed 11 percent on the back of higher shipments of electrical and electronic products.
Shipments of electrical and electronic products, which make up one third of the total exports, inched up 1.1 percent.
Imports, which were expected to remain robust on the back of a rise in investments and demand for capital goods, rose 4.3 percent in November, slightly lower than the 4.5 percent growth forecast in a Reuters poll.
Weaker crude palm oil prices in November due to sluggish global demand and record-high stocks were also a drag on exports' value in Malaysia, the world's No.2 palm oil producer after Indonesia.
While a tepid global economy and eurozone crisis have handicapped the trade-dependent country, robust domestic demand and increased government spending on mega-infrastructure projects and cash giveaways ahead of a general election have propped up an economy.
'The Malaysian economy has been growing around 5 percent, although much less than the coveted 6 percent targeted under the ETP and the 10th Malaysian Plan, it is still a commendable growth rate,' said Azrul.
'The main point is it has not translated into better livelihood for the masses. One of the major grouses of the people is the unchecked rise in prices of basic necessity items. That could be a big issue for the masses who form the majority of registered voters,' he added.
The central bank has forecast as the GDP growth could beat or come in at the top end of its forecast range of 4.0-5.0 percent.
'What the November trade data also indicates is that Malaysia's trade account remains very much supportive to its overall balance of payment (BOP) position - this is definitely still a plus from the flows perspective,' said OCBC economist Gundy Cahyadi in Singapore.
He added that any short-term drag to the economy will be limited by the supportive private consumption growth.
Economists expect Malaysia's trade surplus to narrow in the coming months as the government's ambitious $444 billion Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is expected to lure in investments and boost demand for capital goods, driving imports ahead of exports. November's trade balance eased to 9.3 billion ringgit ($3.06 billion).
Elsewhere in the region, southeast Asia's largest economy Indonesia reported a 4.6 percent fall in its exports for November, a smaller drop than expected, while Thailand's central bank said the country's exports surged 27.1 percent on year, recovering from massive floods that devastated industrial zones in late 2011. ($1 = 3.0421 Malaysian ringgit)
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore) Keywords: MALAYSIA ECONOMY/TRADE
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