China's Trade Balance Swings To Large Deficit From Small Surplus

A shopper walks at the Dragonmart mall in Dubai, February 26, 2012.
A shopper cruises the Dragonmart mall in Dubai on Feb. 26. Built in the shape of a dragon, the massive mall is a trading center with almost 3,950 shops selling mainly Chinese products ranging from garments to office appliances. In a stunning move, China's trade balance fell to a deficit of $31.5 billion in February from a surplus of $6.5 billion in January, according to data in multiple media reports on Saturday. REUTERS/Ashraf Abu Omar

In a stunning move, China's trade balance fell to a deficit of $31.5 billion in February from a surplus of $6.5 billion in January, according to data in multiple media reports on Saturday.

Last month, the country's exports rose a hefty 18.4 percent from a year earlier to $114.5 billion, while imports rose an even heftier 39.6 percent from a year earlier to $146.0 billion, according to the People's Daily Online.

The resultant trade deficit is believed to be China's largest in at least a decade, Reuters reported.

Of course, the Chinese New Year holiday period, aka the Spring Festival, that began on Jan. 23 this year had an effect on the trade balance, but the magnitude of the deficit is nonetheless surprising.

China frequently reports a trade deficit for one month early in each year as its factories restock following the holiday period, but it is seldom as large as it was this February, according to The Associated Press, which noted, Last year, the only monthly deficit was $7.3 billion in February.

It's a very mixed picture, Zhiwei Zhang, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, told Reuters as he cautioned against reading too much into the data given the volatility caused by the Chinese New Year holiday period.

By Zhang's calculations -- adjusting for days worked and excluding the volatility attributed to the 2008-2009 global financial crisis -- China's exports appear to have posted one of their lowest month-on-month growth rates since the mid-1990s, Reuters reported.

But there is a bright spot in that imports, particularly imported components for export purposes, were weak in January, but became a bit better in February. My expectation is that March and April exports will pick up a bit from this level, Zhang told Reuters.

China's government is officially targeting growth of about 10 percent in both imports and exports this year, according to Xinhuanet.

Imports were strong in February partly due to restocking among manufacturers in anticipation of rising commodity prices. That led to a big trade deficit in February, but we should not worry too much about it, Hua Zhongwei, economist at Huachuang Securities in Beijing, told Reuters. Europe and the U.S. are slowly recovering. We should not be too pessimistic about China's exports. Export growth could be around 10-15 percent [this year]. We will have a trade surplus for the whole year.

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