China February exports tumble unexpectedly, heighten slowdown fears

Sun Mar 9, 2014 8:36pm EDT
 
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By Kevin Yao and Adam Rose

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's exports unexpectedly tumbled in February, swinging the trade balance into deficit and adding to fears of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy despite the Lunar New Year holidays being blamed for the slide.

The sharp drop in exports follows a series of factory surveys since the start of 2014 that point to weakness in economic activity as demand falters at home and abroad.

Exports in February fell 18.1 percent from a year earlier, following a 10.6 percent jump in January, the General Administration of Customs said on Saturday.

Imports rose 10.1 percent, yielding a trade deficit of $23 billion for the month versus a surplus of $32 billion in January.

That compares with market expectations in a Reuters poll of a rise of 6.8 percent in exports, an 8 percent rise in imports and a trade surplus of $14.5 billion.

Analysts cautioned against reading too much into single-month figures for January or February, given possible distortions caused by the long Lunar New Year holiday, which began on January 31 and covered early February. Many plants and offices shut for extended periods during the festival.

Still, combined exports in January and February fell 1.6 percent from the same period a year earlier, versus a 7.9 percent full-year rise in 2013. Imports rose 10 percent year-on-year in the first two months, compared with a 7.3 percent rise in 2013.

"February export numbers were a surprise on the downside, and even combined January-February numbers were below market expectations," said Li Heng, an economist at Minsheng Securities in Beijing.   Continued...