China yesterday issued a slew of lower-than-expected trade data for last month as weak foreign demand weighed on the world’s second-largest economy, underlining the fragility of its recovery.
The country’s trade surplus fell to US$19.6 billion, down 38.6 percent from October, according to the customs bureau.
Monthly exports rose 2.9 percent year-on-year to US$179.4 billion, while imports were flat at US$159.8 billion, it said in a statement.
Last month’s surplus is far below the median forecast of US$27.8 billion given by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. They also predicted a 9.6 percent expansion in exports and 1.9 percent increase in imports.
The disappointing figures suggested that drivers of a rebound in the Chinese economy were still weak, analysts said.
“The extremely weak exports data have thrown in one more piece of evidence about the fragility of the recovery,” Ren Xianfang (任現芳), a Beijing-based China economist with research firm IHS Global Insight, said in a note.
China’s economic growth — seen as a key factor in the world’s economic recovery — hit a more than three-year low of 7.4 percent in the third quarter.
However, recent data including industrial production, retail sales and fixed asset investment — a key gauge of infrastructure spending — have all shown improvement, fuelling optimism that the worst was over.
Nevertheless, economists said the rebound had largely been driven by infrastructure spending, which the government boosted to create an impression of prosperity during the five-yearly Chinese Communist Party congress last month.
“A rebound of the economy is just a matter of time, given that the destocking cycle which started in the final quarter of 2011 is nearing an end, but political factors have apparently contributed to a much earlier rebound,” Ren said
China’s export-dependent economy has been struggling in the face of sluggish overseas demand this year. In the first 11 months of the year, total trade increased just 5.8 percent year-on-year to US$3.5 trillion, with exports up 7.3 percent to US$1.8 trillion, according to the customs bureau.
Zhang Zhiwei (張智威), an economist with Nomura International in Hong Kong, pointed to the uncertain US fiscal situation for last month’s deceleration in exports growth from an increase of 11.6 percent in October.
“The export slowdown shows external demand faces uncertainty due to concerns over the fiscal cliff in the US,” he said.
Nonetheless, Zhang added that China’s growth was on track for strong recovery in the fourth quarter despite the slowdown in trade, as it is mostly “domestically driven.”
According to data the government released on Sunday, industrial production jumped 10.1 percent year-on-year last month, the third consecutive month of accelerating growth.
Retail sales, the main measure of consumer spending, rose 14.9 percent on year from 14.5 percent in October, while fixed asset investment was up 20.7 percent in the first 11 months of this year, unchanged from the January-October period.