A container is carried away from a cargo ship at Tianjin Port, in northern China February 23, 2017. REUTERS - Jason Lee - File Photo A container is carried away from a cargo ship at Tianjin Port, in northern China February 23, 2017. REUTERS - Jason Lee - File Photo

China September imports blow past expectations

Fri, Oct. 13, 2017
BEIJING - 13 October 2017: China’s import and export growth accelerated in September, suggesting the world’s second-biggest economy is still expanding at a healthy pace despite widespread forecasts of an eventual slowdown.

The data also suggested further improvement in the global economy, with business activity and demand having picked up markedly this year in Europe and the United States.

The upbeat readings will be welcome new for Beijing ahead of a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress next week, at which President Xi Jinping is expected to tighten his grip on power and set out the government’s top political and economic priorities for the next five years.

Imports grew 18.7 percent in September from a year earlier, beating analysts’ forecasts for a 13.5 percent expansion and accelerating from 13.3 percent in August, customs data showed on Friday. The gain was stronger than the most optimistic forecast in a Reuters analysts poll.

Exports rose 8.1 percent, below forecasts of 8.8 percent but the most in three months and handily beating August’s 5.5 percent.

“Growth momentum is still quite strong and better than our previous expectations,” ANZ senior China economist Betty Wang said.

Once again, China’s imports were led by industrial resources as a year-long construction boom shows no signs of flagging and factories kept humming, boosting demand for materials from steel to copper.

Higher commodity prices greatly magnified the strength of the bounce, but volumes surged, too, pointing to still-solid underlying demand.

Iron ore imports rose to a record 103 million tonnes, from 88.7 million tonnes in August, according to Reuters calculations. Copper imports were the highest since March.

That left the country with a trade surplus of $28.47 billion, less than the near $40 billion expected and down from around $42 billion in August.

China’s foreign trade will likely grow at a double-digit pace this year if current conditions continue, the General Administration of Customs said.

In addition to pointing to buoyant demand, some of the surge in September imports may have been due to companies “front loading” supplies ahead of a week-long national holiday in early October, analysts said.

Capital Economics’ China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said the timing of the mid-Autumn festival this year also meant there were more working days last month than in September 2016, suggesting October figures should show a partial reversal.

“Nonetheless, today’s figures suggest that not only has strong foreign demand continued to prop up manufacturing activity in China but domestic demand remains resilient, too,” Evans-Pritchard said.


China’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States rose to a record for a single month, according to Reuters calculations using official data going back to 2008. The surplus grew to $28.08 billion from $26.23 billion in August.

Exports to the United States grew 13.8 percent on-year from 8.4 percent in August and hit a record $40.9 billion. Import growth slowed to 15.5 percent, from 18.1 percent.

That could aggravate President Donald Trump’s frequent complaints that the trade balance between the two nations hurts the U.S. economy.

Trump in August authorized an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but the move is not expected to prompt any near-term change.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently pressed China on the “need to rebalance bilateral trade and investment relations” and urged it to take “meaningful action” on trade issues.

China-U.S. ties have also been strained by demands that Beijing do more to pressure North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

China’s imports from North Korea fell 37.9 percent in September from a year earlier, marking the 7th consecutive month of decline, while exports dropped 6.7 percent.

With the European Union, China’s exports rose 10.4 percent and imports 30.9 percent.


China’s economy has surprised analysts with its resilience so far in 2017, expanding by 6.9 percent in the first half, though most market watchers have stuck to predictions that it would lose some momentum in coming months.

Authorities are in the midst of a campaign to reduce the risks from a rapid build-up in debt produced by years of credit-fueled stimulus, and sustained trade growth could give policymakers confidence to step up the campaign next year once the leadership reshuffle is out of the way.

That could see a further rise in borrowing costs for companies and consumers.
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