Exports from Asia are rising, but what about the market forecast?

Exports from Asia are rising, but what about the market forecast?

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Merchandise exports from Asia (excluding Japan) fell 5.3% year on year in 2023, the sharpest decline since 2015. This was chiefly due to a downturn in the global electronics cycle—electronics are the region’s key export—as firms ran down the large inventories they had accumulated during the pandemic rather than making new purchases. But in recent months the tide has turned, and our Consensus is for further rises in exports from Asia in coming quarters.

AI boom helps exports from Asia to recover

After many months of continuous contractions, goods exports from Asia finally returned to growth in Q4 2023 in many of the region’s key exporters, such as China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. And this improvement has continued this year, with export readings often beating the market forecast; Taiwan’s March exports growth was more than double analysts’ forecasts, for instance. The gradual exhaustion of the electronics destocking cycle and the surge in demand for AI applications around the world is buoying demand for the region’s IT exports—particularly for semiconductors, the backbone of the AI industry.

Upgrades to the market forecast

Since the end of last year, our Consensus for growth of goods exports from Asia (excluding Japan) in 2024 and 2025 has roughly doubled to 2.2% and 4.4%, respectively, with further upgrades possible in the months ahead. These readings would be higher still were it not for China, whose export growth is set to be muted due to Western trade and tech restrictions, plus overcapacity in some sectors weighing on export prices.

Risks to the outlook for exports from Asia are elevated

Not everything will be plain sailing for exports from Asia in the coming years. As well as the aforementioned difficulties faced by China, rising protectionism in the West more generally is a key risk to the region as a whole. If Donald Trump clinches the U.S. presidency, he has threatened to jack up tariffs not just on China but also on the wider world, which could rewire the global trade environment—and not in Asia’s favor. Adding to this, the EU is also aiming to build greater autonomy in key strategic sectors such as electric batteries and microchips. And in the Middle East, conflict could further disrupt trade flows; shipping via the Red Sea has already been interrupted this year by Houthi attacks.

Goods exports will return to growth this year across much of Asia


Insight from our panelists

Sonal Varma and Si Ying Toh, research analysts at Nomura, spoke about the upbeat economic outlook for the region:

The most important factor underpinning our positive cyclical view is the turn in the goods cycle, which we believe is transitioning from a recovery to an expansionary phase. This is mainly led by semiconductors, due to the end of the inventory correction phase and rising AI demand. As such, the benefits should percolate largely to the open,tech-oriented economies in the region.”

On the impact of Trump’s proposed 60% tariff on Chinese imports, Goldman Sachs analysts said:

The 2018-19 trade war did slow China’s economic growth, in our view. We estimated a cumulative drag of 0.65pp on the level of GDP in China through channels such as lower exports, increased uncertainty, and tighter financial conditions. If we were to linearly extrapolate our estimates but adjust for the now-smaller share of Chinese exports that go directly to the US, then a 60% tariff on Chinese goods would reduce China’s real GDP by around 2pp.”

Our latest analysis

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