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China’s exports rise after nine months of decline

Chinese exports surged in March, the first gain in nine months and the latest positive data out of the world's number two economy, but analysts warned Wednesday's headline figure masked ongoing weakness in overseas demand.

Official figures showing a better-than-expected jump in shipments abroad come just days after another strong inflation reading and last week's surprise jump in an index of factory activity.

The results fuelled hopes that a growth slowdown in the world's biggest trader in goods and crucial pillar of global trade may be bottoming out. Investors welcomed the news, sending the benchmark Shanghai composite index up 1.42 per cent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index up 3.19 per cent.

The figures came ahead of the release Friday of first-quarter gross domestic product data, which a poll by AFP forecast would show expansion weakened further.

Customs said exports increased 11.5 per cent on-year to $160.8 billion, beating the 10 per cent rise economists predicted in a Bloomberg survey and snapping an eight-month streak of declines caused by waning global demand. Exports plunged more than 25 per cent in February. But imports fell for the 17th consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace, dropping 7.6 percent on-year to $131.0 billion, Customs said. However, analysts pointed out that the latest figures were helped by having a low basis of comparison, after exports plunged 15.0 per cent year-on-year in March 2015.

Zhao Yang of Nomura said in a note that shipments rose mainly because of the "low base and calendar effect" due to seasonal distortions around the Lunar New Year holiday, and warned that "external demand has not improved as much as the number may suggest".

But the pace of import declines reduced, he noted, "possibly driven by faster investment and government spending".

A recent pickup in electronic supply chains as new mobile phones were launched in March may have contributed to export strength, ANZ Research said in a note, adding that import data indicate "stabilisation" of commodity prices.

The March trade surplus leaped to $29.9 billion, nearly 10 times the dollar figure for the same month last year. 
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