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China just posted some shocking trade data and it's a worrying sign for global growth

A Chinese man wears a mask as he stands in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao at Tiananmen Gate on a day of heavy pollution. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The data showing the dramatic rebalancing of China’s economy continues.

Imports in January were down 14.4% year-on-year last month, versus a growth of 1.8% expected and a fall of just 4% year-on-year in 2015, in yuan-denominated terms.

Exports were also a big miss, falling 6.6% year-on-year, versus growth of 3.6% expected.

The weakness in the export side of the ledger suggests global growth, where the demand for China’s exports come from, may be weaker than currently thought.

In US dollar terms, the picture is even uglier, with exports falling 11.2% versus a fall of 1.8% expected and imports down a stunning 18.8% against -3.6% expected.

Imports of raw materials tanked, with coal imports down 9.2% year-on-year to 15.3 million tonnes, and crude oil imports down 4.6% compared to a year earlier to 26.7 million tonnes.

The volatility of economic data out of China has become a significant source of concern for global markets, with investors questioning whether Beijing is capable of managing the transition in the economy away from industrial production to consumption-based activity.

China’s share market is open again today following the Lunar New Year holiday, and the major indices are down around 2%, a solid outcome so far given some of the falls on global equity markets over the past week.

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