SEOUL - South Korea recorded a current account deficit in January for the first time in nearly two years as the eurozone debt crisis and the faltering US economy depressed exports, the central bank said Tuesday.
The account - the broadest measure of trade with the world - saw a US$772 million (S$973 million) shortfall compared with a revised US$2.81 billion surplus in December.
The January figure marked the first deficit since February 2010, when the country ran a shortfall of US$549 million.
The goods account, which measures imports and exports, had a deficit of US$1.42 billion in January compared to a surplus of US$2.7 billion in December.
The central Bank of Korea attributed the trade deficit to poor exports of ships, telecommunications devices and display panels, along with fewer working days in the month due to the Lunar New Year holiday.
Exports to Europe fell 38 per cent in January year-on-year compared to a 20 per cent fall in December.
The bank and analysts expect the current account to return to the black in February.
"Exports of automobiles and steel products are strong and there are more working days in February, which will help the country run a current account surplus that's more than enough to cover January's deficit," senior bank official Yang Jae-Ryong told reporters.
Exports to emerging economies would offset the decline in shipments to Europe, he said.
The deficit in the travel account was US$810 million in January, widening from a gap of US$350 million, on increased overseas trips during the winter holiday season.
January's primary income account, which records wages for foreign workers and dividend payments overseas, saw a surplus of US$1.19 billion from US$490 million in December.
Overall this year, the bank expects the current account surplus to fall to around US$13 billion from US$27.65 billion in 2011.