China’s exports soared in February. They were up by over 20 percent from the same month last year – much higher than had been forecast.
That is being taken as a sign that the country’s modest economic revival is intact and that global demand for its goods may also be on the mend.
But underlining the fragility of the situation, Chinese imports were surprisingly weak.
Huang Guohua, the senior statistician with the Customs service, which compiles the data, was upbeat: “Overall import and export volumes increased by 14.2 percent in January and February, sustaining the strong rebound momentum since the fourth quarter of 2012. While the global economic situation is still uncertain, China’s foreign trade started this year well.”
The reason he talked about combined January and February figures was because China’s long Lunar New Year holiday falls at that time and many factories shut for days or even weeks, which can distort the figures.
China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming said he was hopeful that the country’s export sales would improve this year.
“I myself am optimistic that trade growth will exceed last year’s 6.2 percent,” Chen said without giving a forecast.
A true reflection?
The buoyant Chinese exports compare with sluggish growth in South Korea and Taiwan, two other trade bellwethers, casting doubt over the strength of any pick-up in global demand.
South Korea’s exports fell sharply last month and Taiwan’s shipments dropped by the most in 13 months.
Zhang Zhiwei, an economist at Nomura, said the inconsistency may be explained by capital inflows: “Reported exports may be higher than they actually are.”
China’s exporters may be over-stating export revenues while importers under-report their trade to try to get around strict Chinese capital controls and sneak funds into the country.