China's August imports fall unexpectedly but exports buoyant

Mon Sep 8, 2014 1:20am EDT
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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's import growth unexpectedly fell for the second consecutive month in August, posting its worst performance in over a year and stoking speculation about whether authorities should loosen policy further to revive domestic demand.

Imports by the world's second-biggest economy fell 2.4 percent in August compared with a year ago, the General Administration of Customs said on Monday, missing a Reuters estimate for a 1.7 percent rise.

It was the second straight month that China's import growth was surprisingly weak, raising concerns that tepid domestic demand exacerbated by a cooling housing market is increasingly weighing on the economy.

In contrast, China's exports were surprisingly buoyant in August amid stronger global demand. They jumped 9.4 percent from a year earlier to beat a forecast rise of 8 percent, although the growth rate slowed from 14.5 percent in July.

That pushed the trade surplus to an unexpected all-time high of $49.8 billion, which could put further appreciation pressure on the yuan currency CNY=CFXS.

Although falling commodity prices have magnified the weakness in imports as China's trade data is measured in terms of value, analysts said Chinese demand also seemed to be fizzling.

"It's an interesting set of numbers for policymakers," said Louis Kuijs, an economist at RBS.

"It calls for more policy easing, but at the same time, strong exports and a record surplus will put some pressure on policymakers to let the currency rise in some way or the other."

China's economy has had a bumpy ride this year. Growth rebounded slightly in the second quarter from an 18-month low thanks to a stream of government stimulus measures, but hopes that the recovery would gain traction were dashed in July when data showed activity was stumbling again.   Continued...

An employee guides a crane as it transports a roll of steel sheet, at a factory in Handan, Hebei province August 13, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer