China chalked up a $31.5 billion trade deficit in February, its largest in at least a decade, as exports and imports rebounded from a seasonal slowdown caused by Lunar New Year holidays, customs data showed on Saturday.
Exports jumped 18.4 percent while imports accelerated 39.6 percent as factories returned to full time work to resume orders disrupted by the week-long holiday in January that delayed shipments and distorted the real trade picture.
Analysts polled by Reuters said investors should be cautious about reading too much into the monthly data in either January or February, but combine the two months to gauge the trend.
The wide range of forecasts for the month underscores why, with exports called between 5.1 and 65 percent higher in February versus year ago levels, while imports were seen anywhere between down 13.5 percent to up 48 percent.
Exports in January fell 0.5 percent from a year earlier, the worst showing since November 2009, while imports in January tumbled 15.3 percent, raising concerns that domestic demand may be weaker than previously thought -- even allowing for Lunar New Year factory shutdowns.
China's quarterly economic growth is widely forecast by analysts to slow to just over 8 percent in the first quarter from 8.9 percent in the previous quarter, marking the fifth consecutive quarter of slowdown and likely to put the economy on track for its slowest full year of growth in at least a decade.
Export and import growth (yr/yr % change):
Feb Jan Dec Nov Oct Sep Aug Jul Jun
Exp 18.4 -0.5 13.4 13.8 15.9 17.1 24.5 20.4 17.9
Imp 39.6 -15.3 11.8 22.1 28.7 20.9 30.2 22.9 19.3
(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Nick Edwards)