China stormed back to post a hefty trade surplus in April as exports hit a record while imports eased more than expected, weighed down by sustained monetary tightening and high commodity prices.
The surplus of $11.4bn (£6.9bn), nearly four times greater than expected, followed a small, rare trade deficit in the first quarter and could reignite criticism of Beijing’s policy of limiting currency appreciation.
Exports were slightly stronger than anticipated, growing 29.9 per cent in April from a year earlier to $155.7bn. Imports climbed at a lacklustre 21.8 per cent, well short of estimates. Analysts were at loggerheads over whether this should be read as a sign of surprising weakness in the Chinese economy or simply deferred purchases because of soaring commodity bills.
“Exports are much stronger, that’s the basic thing. Global demand is still pretty strong, a bit stronger than many people feared,” said Tao Wang, economist with UBS in Beijing.
“On the import side, we think that commodity exports had been very strongly up until February and there has been quite a bit of inventory build-up. So right now we think it’s going through some adjustment.”
But Xu Biao, an economist with China Merchants Bank in Shenzhen, said the lower-than-expected imports might contain a much more serious warning.
“Concerns about a slowdown have certainly intensified, and the risks of a worst-case scenario for the Chinese economy, namely a relatively low growth rate and a high inflation, are on the rise,” he said.
The median forecast of economists polled by Reuters last week was for exports to rise 29.4 per cent and imports to grow 28 percent, resulting in a trade surplus of $3 billion.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, exports rose 35.1 per cent in April from a year earlier and rose 12.3 per cent from the previous month. Imports gained 27.4 per cent year-on-year and 7.4 per cent month-on-month, the customs administration said.
China’s trade numbers also registered an impact from Japan’s earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis. Imports from Japan were $16bn in April, down 14.9 per cent from March, as production and shipments were interrupted.