China’s September exports fell 10 percent from a year earlier, far worse than expected, while imports unexpectedly shrank 1.9 percent after picking up in August, suggesting signs of steadying in the world’s second-largest economy may be short-lived.
That left the country with a trade surplus of $41.99 billion for the month, the General Administration of Customs said on Thursday.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected imports to rise 1 percent, after unexpectedly advancing 1.5 percent in August for the first time in nearly two years on stronger demand for coal as well as other commodities such as iron ore which are feeding a construction boom.
Exports had been expected to fall 3 percent, slightly worse than in August as global demand for Asian goods remains stubbornly weak.
Analysts had expected the trade surplus to expand to $53 billion in September from August’s $52.05 billion.
The September import reversal raises questions over the strength of the recent recovery in domestic demand, Julian Evans-Pritchard at Capital Economics said in a note after the data.
“The data we have so far suggests that a drop in import volumes of a number of key commodities, including iron ore and copper, are partly responsible,” he said.
“This could be an early sign that the recent recovery in economic activity is losing momentum, although we would caution against reading too much into a single data point given the volatility of the trade figures.”
A rebound in global commodity prices in recent months has helped temper China’s long export and import slump, but the country’s foreign trade still faces significant downward pressure, Xinhua news agency reported last week, citing Shen Danyang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce.
Last month, the World Trade Organization cut its forecast for global trade growth this year by more than a third to 1.7 percent, reflecting a slowdown in China and falling levels of imports into the United States.
China’s economy has shown signs of steadying in recent months, but conditions are uneven, with larger industrial firms expanding their activity and seeing higher profits, while smaller companies continue to struggle.
China’s economic growth also has become more dependant on a government infrastructure spending spree and a housing boom as private investment fizzles and exports remain sluggish.