China economy

Mainland exports rise faster than expected but trade surplus still grows

Analysts say Lunar New Year could distort figures as outbound shipments jump 25pc year on year while mainland imports grow 29pc

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 February, 2013, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 5:01am

Mainland exports grew faster than expected last month, fuelling optimism that the country's economic recovery is on a solid footing.

But economic analysts warned that the trade data could turn out to be volatile over the next two months because of the disruption caused by the Lunar New Year holiday.

Outbound shipments jumped 25 per cent year on year to US$187.4 billion in January while imports climbed 28.8 per cent to US$158.2 billion, according to the customs authorities.

The trade surplus widened 7.7 per cent to US$29.2 billion.

Export growth beat an estimate of 17.5 per cent in a Bloomberg survey.

Haibin Zhu, chief China economist for JP Morgan, said: "China's trade sector has observed modest recovery in the fourth quarter of 2012, which seems to suggest improved outlook in the global economy. However, the recovery remains fragile. In near term, the Chinese New Year effect will bring extra noise to the monthly economic data."

The Lunar New Year took place in January last year, resulted in a reduction of five working days for the month.

This year's economic data for February is likely to appear lacklustre because the one-week holiday for the Lunar New Year began today.

Zuo Xiaolei, chief economist for Galaxy Securities, said that despite short-term volatility, the world's second-largest economy would grow at a faster pace than last year's 7.8 per cent.

A slew of purchasing managers' indictors, gauges of business activities, showed China's economy was back on the fast track in the previous months.

Mainland banks extended 1.07 trillion yuan (HK$1.32 trillion) in new loans in January, 45 per cent more than the same period last year, the central bank said yesterday.

Banking loan growth is regarded as an important economic figure on the mainland since most of the money is used by corporate borrowers to replenish production and fund expansions.

Zuo said import growth in January, a staggering 28.8 per cent, proved that domestic demand was increasing fast.

Beijing has rolled out austerity measures since 2011 to avoid a hard landing after an infrastructure-focused stimulus package and a lending spree in the previous two years.

The mainland economy slowed to 9.3 per cent in 2011 from 10.3 per cent in 2010 before slowing further to 7.8 per cent last year.

It is believed that after a reshuffle during the National People's Congress in March the new government will map out a series of business-friendly policies to bolster the economy.

On Thursday, the central bank in Beijing issued an ominous warning that inflation pressure would pose a threat to a sustainable economic recovery as global commodity prices would be driven up amid monetary easing in the United States and Japan.

Separately, the customs authorities started reporting monthly trade data in both yuan and US dollars. It described the change as a move to bring it in line with the international practice for countries to provide the figures in the local currency as well as US dollars.