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S. Korea posts 3rd straight trade surplus

South Korea posted its third straight monthly trade surplus in January - $1.6 billion - the Trade Ministry said Monday.

Ministry officials attributed the surplus to a sharp depreciation of the Korean won, which boosted exports and discouraged imports. The Korean won lost more than half its value last year.In January, South Korea's customs-cleared exports rose 1.4 percent to $9.16 billion, while imports fell 39.6 percent to $7.56 billion from the same month last year, they said.

A nationwide gold collection campaign that began in early January to pay back foreign debts also contributed to the trade surplus, the officials said.

More than 1.6 million Koreans sold or donated 110 tons - $1.1 billion worth of gold - in the campaign launched to help pay back $57 billion in bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund.

In January, about half of the gold collected, or $500 million, was melted into bars for exports.

Economists say that the improved trade balance would help boost foreign investors' confidence in the South Korean economy.