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Singapore April exports blow past expectations on stronger pharma

FILE PHOTO: A container ship arrives in a port in Singapore June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside/File Photo

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's exports rose sharply in April, beating expectations, thanks to a surge in pharmaceuticals sales, however, shipments of electronics goods, a source of trade strength for much of last year, continued their decline.

Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) increased 11.8 percent in April from a year earlier, after falling for two straight months, data from government agency Enterprise Singapore showed, beating the median 5.4 percent rise predicted in a Reuters survey.

Economists, however, questioned the sustainability of the growth that was led by shipments of pharmaceuticals, a sector known to be volatile.

Pharmaceuticals exports jumped 43.7 percent from a year earlier, while electronics exports fell 6.9 percent, marking a fifth straight month of decline.

"The preference is to have more broad-based growth, rather than wild swings in different sectors on a month-to-month basis," said Selena Ling, economist at OCBC Bank.

She said electronics exports could continue to fall in May, partly due to a high base-effect from last year.

A global exports boom benefited Singapore and other trade-dependent Asian economies last year, particularly for makers of electronics products and components such as semiconductors.

UOB economist Francis Tan said he had not expected such a long run of decline in electronics exports.

"Don't be too optimistic about the above-consensus actual numbers from NODX," he said.

Exports to China rose 26.8 percent and those to the United States increased 37.8 percent in April.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, exports rose 6.5 percent in April. The median forecast was a decline of 0.2 percent.

Experts said simmering trade tensions between the United States and China remained a concern for Singapore exports.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes)