0108 GMT May 25, 2019
Exports sank 20.7 percent last month compared with February 2018 in US dollar terms, the biggest monthly fall since February 2016 and four times steeper than the 4.8 percent decline forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, ft.com reported.
Imports fell 5.2 percent, compared to a forecast drop of 1.4 percent, revealing the smallest trade surplus for China in 11 months.
Major Chinese stocks recorded their biggest intraday dip since October with the CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks ending down nearly four percent.
The export data will heighten concern about China’s domestic economic slowdown. Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday announced that the country will target growth of six to 6.5 percent in 2019, below last year’s figure of 6.6 percent — already a 28-year low.
Weakness in both imports from and exports to the US may also add to pressure on Washington and Beijing to reach a deal to end their trade war. US President Donald Trump last month extended talks on the issue past a March 1 deadline for imposing higher tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports.
The weak Chinese export data follow similar trends in other Asian markets. South Korea has seen exports drop for three straight months, while Japanese outbound trade fell by the most in two years in January.
Chinese exports had returned to growth in January, although analysts were unconvinced that the jump pointed to a robust recovery. They suggested instead that the data had been distorted by the lunar new year holiday falling earlier this year compared to 2018.
Seasonality was likely to have also affected the February data. But taking January and February together, which removes seasonal distortions, exports fell 4.6 percent from a year earlier, while imports dropped 3.1 percent.
Chinese exports to the US fell disproportionately, down 14.6 percent in the first two months of the year, while imports from the US fell 35 percent.
Weak Chinese imports are the latest sign of a slowdown in the domestic economy, which analysts have also cited as a key reason for slowing Japanese and South Korean exports.
“Slow global demand will weigh on China’s export growth in 2019. But the tariff suspension by the US and China and the increased likelihood of a more lasting agreement should provide support,” Louis Kuijs, chief Asia economist at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong, wrote in a note on Friday.
At a press conference on the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary session on Friday, state councilor Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, said negotiations to end the trade war with the US had made substantive progress.
Trade with the EU has outperformed, with exports increasing 14.9 percent and imports up 6.1 percent in the period. Exports to south-east Asia were also strong in February.
“The increase in China’s exports to ASEAN economies seems to indicate a structural shift in regional supply chains southwards,” Raymond Yeung, chief greater China economist at Australia and New Zealand Bank in Hong Kong, wrote in a note on Friday.
“We understand that one major mobile phone maker has started to produce its goods in Vietnam. We believe the ongoing trade tensions between the US and China have already prompted some corporates to hedge against such risks,” he added.