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South Korean Exports Rebound

South Korean exports made a robust showing in March, after economic indicators in February threw cold water on talk of an economic recovery.

In March exports shot up 18 percent higher from the same month last year, to more than $22.5 billion.

Oh Jiwon, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Commerce, credits a strong global appetite for South Korean goods. "Global demand for our goods and services - they've been stable. We've seen double digits [growth] for semiconductors, our automobiles, steel products," he said.

The export figures for March were a sharp contrast to the February economic performance, when South Korean exports rose just slightly more than seven percent - the slowest increase in nearly two years. Also in February, industrial output dropped more than seven percent compared with the year before, and private consumption dropped in February.

Official data show the slowdown was partially related to February's Lunar New Year holiday - when many South Koreans took up to a week off work.

In China, a slowdown in some economic indicators is being welcomed. Chinese state media predict economic growth will be 8.8 percent for the first quarter of the year, well off the 9.5 percent growth for all of 2004. Many economists think the economy needs to grow by less than nine percent a year to avoid sparking excessive inflation or shortages of material and labor.

China's consumer price index rose by nearly four percent in February, but it is down from highs of more than five percent in the middle of last year. Economists credit China's decision to raise interest rates in October, as well as other controls put in place by Beijing.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has ordered much of the national civil service to slow down to save energy. Many Philippine government branches are switching to four 10-hour workdays, rather than five eight-hour days. The move is aimed at saving millions of dollars in electricity and water costs, as the government struggles to cut its massive deficit.

State-owned corporations also will adopt the new workweek, and the legislative and judicial government branches are considering the switch as well.