* Exports beat Reuters poll forecast, imports miss
* Per-day average exports hit record high
* Case for interest rate rise next week seen more likely (Updates with analyst’s comments)
By Yoo Choonsik
SEOUL, March 1 (Reuters) - South Korean exports in February rose more than expected from a year earlier, government data showed on Tuesday, underlining sustained economic growth and boosting the case for an interest rate increase next month.
Analysts forecast February inflation in Asia’s fourth-largest economy would quicken to a 2-year high and above the ceiling of the central bank’s target band as the economy kept expanding and as global commodities prices have been on the rise.
“The data is likely to allay BOK worries about downside risk to growth, which increases the likelihood of a rate hike at the March 10 meeting,” said Tim Condon, chief Asia economist at ING in Singapore.
Exports in February rose 17.9 percent from a year earlier to $38.96 billion while imports grew 16.3 percent to $36.11 billion, producing a trade surplus of $2.85 billion after rounding, data from the Ministry of Knowledge Economy showed.
Median forecasts from a Reuters survey were for exports and imports to grow 17.1 percent and 17.5 percent over a year before, respectively, slowing on long holidays from revised annual growth of 45.4 percent and 32.4 percent in January. [ID:nTOE71M01V]
Reuters calculations showed the average exports value per working day — a useful guide on monthly changes in the absence of seasonally adjusted data — amounted to a record $2.05 billion, compared with a revised $1.94 billion in January.
The ministry is due to release more details about February exports and imports later in the day. All figures are provisional, and revised data will be released later this month.
China and the United States are the top two markets for South Korean exports, together accounting for just over one-third of the total. (Editing by Ken Wills)