Early indications, including signs of disappointing orders, point to a mixed reaction to the latest iPhones, hurting the share prices of Apple Inc.'s Asia-based suppliers. Given that smartphone improvements help power demand for electronics components from supply-chain powerhouses such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, a weaker upgrade cycle would have macro-economic implications too.
The weakening "smartphone effect" is not the only reason economists are sensing a peak in this year’s better-than-expected trade performance in Asia. Other threats include forecasts that China’s economy is slowing again and the shift by some developed-world central banks away from years of extraordinarily easy money.
"It feels like we are toward the tail end of the upswing at a time, ominously, that the other key driver of Asian exports — China — is showing signs of resuming its economic slowdown," said Rob Subbaraman, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore.
The smartphone cycle and firmer Chinese growth were among reasons Asia defied predictions of trade wars, deflation and tepid demand to instead see increased exports of everything from cosmetics to semiconductors. In the year-to-date through August, the region’s exports have been the strongest in dollar terms since 2011, according to economists at Morgan Stanley.
There is no precise measure of the impact of smartphone production on Asian trade, but economists say it’s sizable. Take South Korea: Exports of semiconductors jumped 57 percent in August to a record $8.8bn, owing to the release of new phones and increases in DRAM capacities. That was about 18.6 percent of the country’s total exports for the month.
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