Chinese trade figures for August have just been released, and they’re weak yet again, particularly for imports.
Imports fell by 13.8% from a year earlier, well below the 8.1% contraction of July and expectations for a drop of 8.2%. Imports from Australia tumbled by 29.6%, marginally shading a 21.7% decline from the European Union, while those from the US slipped by a smaller 5.9%.
On the other side of the ledger, exports fell by 5.5%, an improvement on the 8.3% decline of July and expectations for a contraction of 6.0%. Those to the European union slid by 7.5% while those to the US declined by 1.0%, having fallen 1.3% previously.
With the decline in imports outpacing that for exports, the trade surplus ballooned to the second highest level on record, rising to $60.236 billion from $43.03 billion in July. It was significantly above expectations for an increase to $48.2 billion.
While falling commodity prices, the Tianjin port explosion and temporary closures before last week’s Victory Day parade likely contributed to the sharp fall in imports in US dollar terms, the scale of the decline will do little to appease concerns over the health of China’s economy.
One look at commodity import volumes certainly paints an ugly picture. Crude imports fell to 26.59 million tonnes, down from 30.71 million tonnes in July, while iron ore and coal slipped by 13.9% and 17.7% to 74.12 million tonnes and 17.49 million tonnes respectively.
The question many will be asking themselves will be whether the substantial decline was due to temporary factors, or the start of a sinister new trend?
While that question will likely be answered in the months ahead, the data today will do little to dispel the increasingly held view that Chinese economic growth has decelerated in recent months.
Later this week, China’s government will release a plethora of economic figures including CPI, M2 monetary growth, industrial production, retail sales and urban fixed-asset investment.
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