China’s exports unexpectedly tumbled in February, swinging the trade balance into deficit and adding to fears of a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy despite the Lunar New Year holidays being blamed for the slide.
The sharp drop in exports follows a series of factory surveys since the start of 2014 that point to weakness in economic activity as demand falters at home and abroad.
Exports in February fell 18.1 per cent from a year earlier, following a 10.6 per cent jump in January, the General Administration of Customs said on Saturday.
Imports rose 10.1 per cent, yielding a trade deficit of $23 billion for the month versus a surplus of $32 billion in January.
That compares with market expectations in a Reuters poll of a rise of 6.8 per cent in exports, an 8 per cent rise in imports and a trade surplus of $14.5 billion.
Analysts cautioned against reading too much into single-month figures for January or February, given possible distortions caused by the long Lunar New Year holiday, which began on January 31 and covered early February. Many plants and offices shut for extended periods during the festival.
Still, combined exports in January and February fell 1.6 per cent from the same period a year earlier, versus a 7.9 per cent full-year rise in 2013. Imports rose 10 per cent year-on-year in the first two months, compared with a 7.3 per cent rise in 2013.
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Exports to the US edged up 1.3 per cent in the first two months from a year earlier, while sales to the EU rose 4.6 per cent, according to official data. China is fully confident of achieving its 7.5 per cent growth target in total trade this year, commerce minister Gao Hucheng said, citing an improving global economic environment.
China’s combined exports and imports grew 7.6 per cent in 2013, just short of the official target of 8 per cent.