SINGAPORE - Singapore's exports rebounded in December after nine months of contraction, confounding expectations for a fall, partly boosted by a sharp rise in pharmaceutical shipments.
However, economists said further declines in electronics exports did not yet indicate the recovery could be sustained.
Non-oil domestic exports from the city-state in December expanded 2.4% from a year earlier, data from Enterprise Singapore showed on Friday, significantly above the 1.8% decline predicted by economists in a Reuters poll and November's 5.9% drop.
The rise was driven by a 34.7% on-year rise in pharmaceutical shipments, although electronics contracted 21.3% after a 23.3% decline the previous month.
"It is imperative for a sustained improvement in exports that the electronics sector rebounds," said Sanjay Mathur, chief economist for Southeast Asia at ANZ.
"Pharma will continue to be volatile and it is not an issue that is related to the business cycle per se. What is related to the business cycle is the electronics sector."
Singapore's economy expanded at its slowest pace in a decade last year, with the export-oriented nation hit hard by the trade war between the United States and China and the cyclical downturn in the electronics sector.
Some chipmakers have started expecting a recovery from the industry downturn, helped by a pick-up in smartphone demand.
On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, exports also surprisingly expanded 1.1% in December after growing 5.8% in November. The poll had called for a 1.3% contraction from the month before.
Shipments of non-monetary gold also bolstered December's rebound, up 127.8% from a year earlier.
The city-state is a big regional player in the gold trade, and exports can be affected by sharp swings in value. Spot gold has in recent weeks risen to some of the highest levels seen since 2013, according to Refinitiv data.