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S. Korea economy grows at fastest pace for two years

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

South Korea's economy grew at its fastest pace in two years in the first quarter of this year as exports bounced back despite competition from a weak yen, the Bank of Korea said Thursday.

Asia's fourth-largest economy expanded a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent quarter-on-quarter in the January-March period, compared with a rate of 0.3 percent in the previous quarter.

It was the strongest expansion since January-March 2011, when the economy grew 1.3 percent, and will likely to dent expectations of a central bank interest rate cut later this year.

The central bank delivered two rate cuts last year -- in July and October -- which brought the base rate to 2.75 percent. It has since kept the policy rate unchanged.

Hit by sluggish export demand from Europe and the United States, the South Korean economy expanded just 2.0 percent in 2012, its slowest pace for three years.

Earlier this month, the central bank revised its growth forecast for this year down to 2.6 percent, just three months after slashing it from 3.2 percent to 2.8 percent.

Exports account for more than half of South Korea's gross domestic product, and overseas orders have been been squeezed by a weakening yen, which blunts the competitiveness of key exporters such as Hyundai and Samsung.

But Thursday's data showed exports rising 3.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012, when they suffered a 1.1 percent decline.

Last week, the government proposed a 17.3 trillion won ($15.4 billion) supplementary budget to help boost the economy, including further spending on defence at a time of heightened tensions with the North.

The first fiscal stimulus package for four years, which requires parliamentary approval, will cover a 12-trillion won shortfall in revenue and provide 5.3 trillion won in new spending.

"We prepared the extra budget proposal ... given worries that our economic engine could cool off if we do not take immediate action," Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok told policymakers in Seoul on Thursday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130425/s-korea-economy-grows-at-fastest-pace-two-years