China December trade more robust than expected, but concerns linger

Tue Jan 13, 2015 6:34am EST
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By Xiaoyi Shao and Pete Sweeney

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's December trade data beat expectations as demand from a stronger U.S. economy helped offset weakness in Europe and Japan, while Chinese bargain-shopping in commodities markets put a floor under sliding imports.

But while exports grew faster and imports shrank less than forecast, trade officials warned of more headwinds to come in the first quarter if global demand remains uneven.

Policymakers are trying to steer the world's second-largest economy through a soft patch as it confronts weak demand, over capacity and a cooling property market. The central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates in November and many economists expect further stimulus in coming months to avert a sharper slowdown.

Exports in December rose 9.7 percent from a year earlier in dollar-denominated terms, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday, handily beating a Reuters poll by nearly three full percentage points.

Imports dropped by only 2.4 percent, where analysts' consensus was for a far steeper decline of 7.4 percent.

But officials were cautious when discussing how much positive momentum trade will deliver this year.

"We think the negative factors that crimped trade performance in 2014 will be sustained for a period of time," said Zheng Yuesheng, a spokesman for China's customs bureau.

Zheng was referring to factors such as a weak recovery in the world economy, falling foreign direct investment in Chinese manufacturing and rising domestic production costs.   Continued...

Trucks loaded with cargo containers are seen at Ningbo Zhoushan Port, Zhejiang province, December 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer