by Kelly OLSEN
BEIJING:- China’s stuttering economy suffered another blow in November as export growth slowed sharply and imports surprisingly contracted, government data showed Monday, resulting in a record monthly trade surplus.
Exports from the world’s second-largest economy expanded 4.7 percent year-on-year to $211.66 billion in November, while imports dropped 6.7 percent to $157.19 billion, the General Administration of Customs said.
The surplus soared 61.4 percent to a record $54.47 billion in the month, Customs said, beating August’s previous record of $49.8 billion.
Median forecasts had been for exports to increase 8.0 percent and imports to rise 3.9 percent, according to a survey of 16 economists by Dow Jones Newswires.
The latest figures come as China is assailed by industrial weakness, falling property prices and high corporate and local government debt burdens, prompting the central bank last month to cut benchmark interest rates for the first time in more than two years.
Gross domestic product (GDP) grew an annual 7.3 percent in the third quarter, the slowest since the height of the global financial crisis in early 2009.
The sharp slowdown in export growth means there is a risk growth this year will come in below 7.5 percent “as both domestic and external demand weakened”, ANZ economists Liu Li-Gang and Zhou Hao said in a report reacting to the data.
On imports, they added, “the large decline was way out of our expectation”.
Lu Ting and Sylvia Sheng at Bank of America Merrill Lynch pointed to slumping oil and commodity prices as the driver, adding: “We estimate China could save around $72 billion in oil imports in 2015.”
China’s official GDP growth target for 2014 is “about 7.5 percent”, though officials including Premier Li Keqiang have said the figure is not set in stone and could come in below that number.
This week’s annual Central Economic Work Conference will be closely watched for clues as to this year’s goal, although its conclusions will probably not be formally unveiled until March.
Economists increasingly expect a lowering of the target to about seven percent owing to the downward pressures as well as a commitment by authorities — who speak of a “new normal” — to transform China’s economic model to one driven by consumers rather than state-led investment.
China last lowered the target in 2012, to 7.5 percent from 8.0 percent. A drop to 7.0 percent would be the lowest since 2004.
In November export growth slowed from an 11.6 percent year-on-year expansion in October, when imports grew 4.6 percent. The trade surplus had been forecast at $45.1 billion.
– Shares rise –
The Shanghai Composite Index rose more than two per cent following the figures, crossing the 3,000-point mark for the first time since April 2011 with traders hoping for fresh economy-boosting measures.
In the wake of the interest rate cuts, economists are expecting more monetary easing, including reductions in the reserve requirement ratio, the amount of cash banks must keep on hand. Cutting the level means more money is available for lending out, which can have a stimulatory effect on the economy.
The trade figures kick off a week of data releases with November inflation statistics due Wednesday to be followed by industrial production, retail sales and fixed asset investment on Friday.
In the first 11 months of the year, total trade with the European Union increased 8.9 percent to 3.43 trillion yuan ($556 billion), while that with the United States gained 5.2 percent to 3.09 trillion yuan. Customs said.
Trade with the ASEAN group of Southeast Asian countries was up 7.1 percent at 2.66 trillion yuan. But with Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, trade edged down 0.7 percent to 1.75 trillion yuan.
Capital Economics China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said that while conditions abroad should boost exports going forward, the weakness in imports would probably continue.
“Despite today’s data, we still expect exports to fare reasonably well going forward given that global growth looks set to continue to recover next year,” he said in a note.
“In contrast, import growth is likely to remain weak given the ongoing structural slowdown in investment.”