By Se Young Lee and Choonsik Yoo
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean exports last month marked their first back-to-back growth of the year, but demand from the advanced economies was weak, data showed on Saturday, indicating any global recovery would be fragile at best.
November exports grew by 3.9 percent over a year earlier to $47.8 billion on top of a revised 1.1 percent rise in October, while imports last month rose by 0.7 percent to $43.3 billion, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy data showed.
The November data, released for the first time by a major exporting economy, and the robust survey findings in China disclosed earlier in the day offered fresh signs of the global economy regaining some momentum.
Shipments to China and the southeast Asian countries posted sharp gains over a year earlier, whereas demand from the United States and the European Union shrank, according to break-down figures for the November 1-20 period released later.
"Robust data from China and today's Korean data increase the chances for Korean exports maintaining a modest recovery," said Park Sang-hyun, chief economist at HI Investment & Securities.
RARE ANNUAL DROP IN EXPORTS
Data released earlier on Saturday showed China's manufacturing sector activity was at a seven-month high in November, while South Korea's October industrial output also expanded for the second straight month.
"But as Europe and the U.S. are not getting any stronger soon, any global recovery will be an uneven and fragile one for the time being," Park added.
Analysts in a Reuters survey had forecast November exports would grow a median 2.6 percent over a year before on top of a revised 1.1 percent gain in October, when overseas sales posted their first growth in four months.
The ministry's data showed South Korea ran a trade surplus of $4.48 billion for November, compared with a revised surplus of $3.73 billion in October. The country's trade balance has been in black for all but two months since early 2009.
Meanwhile, exports for the January-November period were 0.8 percent less than the comparable period of 2011, making it highly likely the country will miss its export target of a 3.5 percent gain set for the whole of 2012.
Reuters calculations show South Korean exports this year would post an annual loss unless shipments in December grow 9 percent or more on a year-on-year basis. The country's exports grew in all but three years for the past 50 years at least.
South Korea is home to some of the world's largest suppliers of cars, smartphones and ships. It sends roughly a quarter of its total exports to China and about 10 percent each to the European Union and the United states.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)