Tags: China | Export | Growth | Weakness

China’s Export Growth Plummets as Global Weakness Exposed

Saturday, 08 June 2013 09:07 AM

China’s export growth plummeted to a 10-month low in May and imports unexpectedly fell as a crackdown on fake trade shipments exposed weakness in global demand.

Overseas sales rose 1 percent from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said in Beijing, trailing 35 of 38 analyst estimates in a Bloomberg News survey and down from April’s 14.7 percent pace. Imports dropped 0.3 percent, leaving a trade surplus of $20.4 billion.

The report reflects a government campaign to root out illegal capital inflows disguised as trade that had inflated figures and added to appreciation pressure on the yuan. It also underscores the challenges Premier Li Keqiang faces as overseas demand stalls while rising home prices, financial risks and overcapacity at home limit his room to boost the economy.

“This shows the real state of the Chinese export situation,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong. The data show a “pretty depressed” picture, with weak external demand and a yuan that has appreciated substantially against a trade-weighted basket of currencies, said Shen, who previously worked at the European Central Bank.

The slowdown in May’s figures was partly the result of “arbitrage trade” with Hong Kong being curbed, the customs administration said in a statement. Appreciation in the yuan and the worsening trade environment, as well as a domestic slowdown, weak external demand and high business costs, also contributed, the agency said.

SAFE Warnings

The State Administration of Foreign Exchange last month started a campaign to curb money flows disguised as trade payments that had inflated export data.

China’s exports to Hong Kong fell to $28 billion in May from $39.5 billion in April, according to customs data. Growth in sales through bonded zones, which lie within China’s borders and handle shipments as international trade, slumped to a year- on-year pace of 45.8 percent in May from April’s 253.5 percent.

Data due on industrial production and retail sales for May and fixed-asset investment for the first five months are forecast to show little change from April’s growth rates. Analysts last month trimmed economic-expansion forecasts for the April-June period to a median projection of 7.8 percent from an 8 percent pace forecast in April.

Li, who took office as premier in March, has resisted adding stimulus to the economy as the new leadership tries to make growth more sustainable and avoid stoking financial risks.

Supportive Policies

The trade figures reflect a “normalization,” said Hu Yifan, chief economist at Haitong International Securities Co. in Hong Kong, the only analyst to forecast declines in exports and imports. “We expect export growth to remain modest but import growth to pick up along with implementation of supportive policies,” she wrote in a note.

The trade slump adds to concerns that the global recovery is losing momentum even as the U.S. shows signs of strengthening. The ECB this week forecast the 17-nation euro area will contract 0.6 percent this year, more than its March estimate of 0.5 percent. In the U.S., employers added more workers than forecast in May.

Even so, China’s exports to the U.S. fell 1.6 percent in May from a year earlier and imports from the U.S. dropped 1.5 percent, the first time since 2009 that both showed a decline in the same month.

Yuan Strength

Exports “may remain weak in the near term” as the U.S. economy softens, which is likely to shift expectations for a strengthening yuan, said Ding Shuang, senior China economist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong. The yuan has risen 1.6 percent this year against the U.S. dollar and about 14 percent against the yen, the most among Asian currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Analysts had median estimates of 7.4 percent for May export growth, 6.6 percent for import gains and $20 billion for the trade surplus.

Part of China’s broader import drop resulted from falling commodity prices. The volume of inbound iron ore shipments rose 7.4 percent in May from a year earlier while the value increased about 1 percent, based on previous data. Average prices in the first five months were down 4 percent, the customs agency said.

The customs administration in April acknowledged concerns that export data may be overstated after March shipments to Hong Kong jumped 92.9 percent from a year earlier, the most in at least a decade. A Bloomberg News survey last month showed analysts estimated January-April export growth was overstated by 4 to 13 percentage points.

Solar Tariffs

Trade friction may also hamper exports this year. The European Union this week said tariffs of as much as 67.9 percent could be imposed on solar panels from China in the largest EU commercial dispute of its kind, affecting Chinese companies like Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. and Wuxi Suntech Power Co.

China’s exporters are losing competitiveness “because of a strong yuan and rising protectionism,” Liu Li-Gang, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.’s head of Greater China economics in Hong Kong, said in a note.

That trend “will gradually show up in China’s export data in the following months, which will have dire consequences to China’s already weak job markets.”

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China’s export growth plummeted to a 10-month low in May and imports unexpectedly fell as a crackdown on fake trade shipments exposed weakness in global demand.
Saturday, 08 June 2013 09:07 AM
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