China’s trade surplus soared in May as exports were lifted by a strengthening global economy, but imports fell unexpectedly.
Official data showed yesterday that the trade surplus had expanded to $36bn from $20.4bn a year ago as exports grew 7 per cent from May last year.
According to the General Administration of Customs, exports easily topped market expectations, but imports were much weaker than forecast, declining 1.6 per cent from May 2013.
Zheng Yuesheng, a customs official, told state media the data showed that export growth had “returned to normal”.
Earlier this year, comparisons were complicated by the fact that exports had been artificially inflated last year as companies used fake invoices to circumvent currency controls.
“We do not think the May trade data will change the policy stance significantly,” said Louis Kuijs, China economist at RBS.
“While the export data are reasonably positive, the weakness of domestic demand implied by the import data may keep the pressure up for initiatives to support growth.”
He expected Beijing to announce “measures to support growth while refraining from more major, general stimulus steps”.
Li Keqiang, Chinese premier, warned officials on Friday not to overlook economic challenges, saying that downward pressure on the economy was “relatively high”.
State media quoted him as saying: “To achieve the development goals for 2014 we should better mobilise efforts from both the central and local authorities.”
In the first quarter of 2014 the economy expanded 7.4 per cent from the same period last year, a slowdown from the 7.7 per cent growth in the final quarter of last year. Growth was the slowest since the third quarter of 2012.
The International Monetary Fund last week cut its economic growth forecast for China because of concerns about the property market and a build-up of credit. The IMF said it expected the Chinese economy to grow at 7 per cent or lower next year, compared with its previous estimate of 7.3 per cent.
ANZ bank said the improved export numbers were a result of supportive government policies coupled with stronger demand from advanced economies.
While Mr Kuijs suggested that the unexpected fall in imports was caused by “slow growth of demand in China’s economy”, ANZ said it was probably “due to the recent crackdown on using commodities as collateral to finance deals”.
Xinhua, the state-run news agency, has reported that authorities at Qingdao, the third-largest port in China, have launched an investigation into whether commodities traders had used fake warehouse receipts to help raise finance from banks.