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China: Trade balance posts record surplus as imports tumble in January

February 8, 2015

In January, exports fell 3.3% over the same month last year, which largely contrasted the 9.7% expansion tallied in December. The print contrasted the 4.0% increase that market analysts had expected and represented the first contraction in exports since March 2014. Imports plummeted 19.9% annually in January, which was well below the 2.4% decline tallied in December. The print exceeded the 3.3% drop that market analysts had expected and represented the steepest decline since May 2009.

As a result of the underperformance in imports, the trade surplus widened to USD 60.0 billion in January (December 2014: USD 49.6 billion) from the USD 32.0 billion recorded in the same month last year. The print was up from the USD 48.4 billion that market analyst had expected and represented the largest surplus on record. The 12-month moving sum of the trade surplus jumped from USD 383 billion in December to USD 408 billion in January, which represented the highest print on record.

Despite the dismal performance in trade, analysts reckon that the timing of the Lunar New Year, the appreciation of the dollar and lower commodity prices have played a heavy role in January’s disappointing figures.

FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast panelists project that merchandise exports will grow 6.7% in 2015, while imports will expand 5.2%, thus driving the trade balance to record a surplus of USD 425 billion. For 2016, the panel expects exports to increase 5.6% and imports to rise 6.1%, while the trade surplus will widen to USD 451 billion.


Author: Ricard Torné, Head of Economic Research

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China Trade Chart


China Trade12m January 2015

Note: 12-month sum of trade balance in USD billion and annual variation of the 12-month sum of exports and imports in %.
Source: General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China and FocusEconomics calculations.


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