China's February imports surge, exports growth slows

The surge in imports and simultaneous weakness in exports blew a 60.4 billion yuan (US$9.2 billion) hole in China's trade balance, against expectations for a healthy surplus of 172.5 billion.

China booked an unexpectedly high trade imbalance in February as imports soared at their strongest pace since early 2012, the General Administration of Customs reported Wednesday.

Still, economists say the upbeat readings reinforced a growing view that economic activity in China and globally picked up in the first two months of the year.

In February, exports in yuan terms rose 4.2% from a year ago, but imports in yuan terms jumped 44.7%.

Higher commodity prices and domestic demand were credited with pushing February's imports up 38.1% on a year earlier.

China's first-quarter economic growth could accelerate to 7 percent year-on-year, from 6.8 percent in the last quarter, economists at OCBC wrote in a note on Monday, while adding that the pace may ease starting in spring.

Analysts said the February results owed to strong domestic demand, high worldwide commodity prices, and shifting timing of the Spring Festival holiday, which causes a slowdown in activity at factories and ports.

At the weekend, Premier Li Keqiang used his speech at the country's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) to cut China's annual growth target to 6.5%.

China's shipments to the United States rose 11.5 percent in February in yuan terms, compared to a year earlier. China will "ensure that foreign trade continues to pick up and register steady growth", Li's report said.

Chain of iron: Australian minerals such as iron ore, seen being loaded at Port Hedland in Western Australia, are vital to China's economic health.

"The latest trade data suggest that, seasonal distortions aside, both exports and imports strengthened at the start of 2017", said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics.

  • Zachary Reyes