In the latest sign that the slowdown in China and the global trade war is weighing on global commerce, South Korea’s exports fell in December. The 1.2% YoY decline was dramatically below the +2.5% YoY expected and missed even the most pessimistic forecast (which was still a rise).
Korean exports were hit by falling memory-chip and oil prices and cooling demand from China and imports also disappointed, rising 0.9% YoY.
"The (annual) decline came about a month earlier than I thought, but I expect Korean exports to be weak throughout the first half of this year, posting low single-digit growth at best," said Lee Seung-hoon, an economist at Meritz Securities.
Exports to China dropped 13.9% in December over a year earlier, as trade friction with the United States weighed on demand from the largest buyer of South Korean goods.
South Korea is the first major exporter to report trade data each month, so provides an early reading of global trade; and as the world's leading exporter of computer chips, ships, cars and petroleum products, December's data is a major red flag for the global economy.
As the chart below shows, Global equity market earnings growth (and contraction) is extremely tightly correlated to Korean export growth (or contraction)...
So maybe global stocks are on to something with their recent collapse as they increasingly price in an earnings recession.