By Mia Shanley
SINGAPORE, Apr 17 (Reuters) Singapore's non-oil exports fell more than expected in March due to a surprise slump in electronics shipments, government data showed on Monday, but retail sales in February came in above market forecasts.
Exports in March fell a seasonally adjusted 4.2 percent from February, when they rose a revised 2.5 percent. The median forecast in a Reuters poll was for a 2 percent drop.
''The numbers came in lower than expected,'' said Christiaan Tuntono, an economist at JPMorgan Chase. ''There may be a potential slowdown for the electronics sector in the second quarter.'' Exports fell in two of the first three months of 2006. Last week, the central bank forecast a slowdown in economic growth later in the year, in line with global trends and an expected moderation in the tech cycle.
Exports of electronics fell a seasonally adjusted 6.4 percent in March from February, when they had jumped 11 percent.
The electronics sector, which includes global suppliers such as Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd., produces about half of Singapore's non-oil exports.
From a year earlier, March non-oil exports rose 16.8 percent, trade agency International Enterprise Singapore said in a statement. That was just short of a median forecast in the poll for 18.3 percent growth.
Rival electronics producer Taiwan also saw slower overall export growth in March, with annual growth slowing to 7.1 percent from 26.4 percent in February.
Singapore's electronics exports showed annual growth of 16.4 percent in March, after a 30 percent increase in February.
Strong pharmaceutical exports helped boost the March total, with drugs exports up 51 percent from a year earlier after an annual increase of 4.8 percent in February.
The IE says it does not release seasonally adjusted figures for the biomedical sector as drugs exports tend to be lumpy and volatile.
In contrast to the disappointing export data, Singapore's February retail sales index rose a seasonally adjusted 4.1 percent from January, beating forecasts of a 1.4 percent rise.
The index had contracted almost 4 percent in January.
Motor vehicles, which represent the largest chunk of the index at 26 percent, rose almost 20 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, the statistics department said. Department store sales, which make up 14 percent of the index, rose a 6.4 percent.
Excluding motor vehicle sales, the February index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.3 percent from January.
February retail sales rose 4.7 percent from a year ago thanks largely to stronger car sales.
REUTERS PV HT1650