By J.R. Wu
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's December export orders grew for a fifth straight month but slower than forecast, raising some concerns that demand for its tech shipments will cool after the year-end holiday season.
Asia's 2016 electronics bounce is showing some staying power, underpinning the region's export-dependent economies as headwinds intensify because of rising global trade frictions.
The island's manufacturers are wary about U.S. trade policy as Donald Trump prepares to be sworn in as president later on Friday, with his protectionist agenda casting a cloud over the outlook on global trade.
Taiwan is benefiting from the tech cycle recovery, but it is also one of the most vulnerable to U.S.-China trade tensions, DBS said in a research note.
"The upcoming developments in U.S.-China economic and political ties after Trump's inauguration should be watched closely," the bank said.
Taiwan's annual orders rose 6.3 percent in the final month of 2016, below the 8.9 percent pace expected in a Reuters poll and also slower than November's 7 percent rise.
The value and pace of growth of export orders in January is expected to be lower than December, the economics ministry said when it issued the data on Friday.
"In the second half, we need to see how the overall economy is doing and whether new model smartphones will be able to attract demand," ministry official L.J. Lin told a news conference. She said U.S. trade policies will also be watched.
Taiwan's manufacturers are bracing for the traditionally low season for tech demand in the first quarter. Export orders are a leading indicator for actual exports 2-3 months ahead.
Taiwan's actual exports in December bounced to a four-year high and a key manufacturing activity gauge showed operating conditions at their best in nearly six years, pointing to new business ahead at home and abroad.
The world's largest contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co <2330.TW> warned last week of weaker business prospects for the current quarter due to the smartphone sector.
Taiwan's export orders showed stable gains last month in components related to smartphone manufacturing.
Information and communication goods orders in December rose 7.2 percent from a year earlier, faster than November's 6.9 percent, while orders for electronic goods climbed 8.1 percent, but were off from November's 10.1 percent pace.
Taiwan's orders in 2016 contracted for the second year in a row, but the value of orders for information and communication goods hit a record high of $133.5 billion, while those for electronics goods at $118.65 billion, was the second highest on record.
Taiwan manufacturers will be closely watching what policies Trump will enact to protect American jobs, as many operate factories in China.
The ministry's Lin, however, noted that a lot of Taiwan's export orders are sourced from the United States. "We have existing cooperations, so if manufacturing moves to the United States, it may not affect our orders as much," she said.
(Additional reporting by Emily Chan and Jeanny Kao; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)