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Indonesian trade surplus rises as economy gains strength

JAKARTA--Indonesia posted its biggest trade surplus for two years in December, data showed Monday, as Southeast Asia's biggest economy shows signs of recovery after a turbulent 2013.

The surplus was a bigger-than-expected US$1.52 billion, the statistics agency said, up from November's US$776.8 million and the biggest since December 2011.

Indonesia was hit hard last year, along with other developing economies, owing to speculation the U.S. Federal Reserve would start to wind down its stimulus program, which had been credited with a rally in emerging markets since it was unveiled in late 2012.

The speculation sparked a plunge in the Jakarta stock exchange and rupiah, which has lost more than 20 percent of its value. Authorities scrambled to shore up the economy and the central bank hiked its key interest rate 175 basis points between June and November.

Emerging market jitters returned last month, with global shares plunging, after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced a second successive cut to its bond buying.

However the data out Monday showed further evidence that the Indonesian economy was recovering, economists said.

“If there was any doubt that Indonesia's trade position is improving, there shouldn't be now,” said Robert Prior-Wandesforde from Credit Suisse.

Statistics agency chief Suryamin, who goes by one, attributed the widening trade surplus to higher exports in sectors including gas and electrical appliances.

Exports reached US$16.98 billion in December, up 10.33 percent from the same month in 2012.

Imports between January and December 2013 fell 2.64 percent from a year earlier to US$186.63 billion.

Inflation in January was 8.22 percent year-on-year, the statistics agency said.

This was slightly slower than 8.38 percent on-year in December but still high as seasonal flooding across the country pushed up food prices due to high distribution costs.

Indonesia has enjoyed a prolonged boom in recent years, with the economy expanding more than six percent annually, but analysts predict growth will slip below this level in 2013.

The full-year growth figure for 2013 is released on Wednesday.

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