China Trade Growth Sputters, Monetary Policy Easing on the Cards
A port worker holds a radio as he works at a container area at the Yangshan Deep Water Port, south of Shanghai June 2, 2011. Reuters

Chinese exports and imports registered weaker growth in December than November, signaling that growth in the world's second largest economy is losing steam on account of sluggish demand and a thaw in the real estate market.

Data showed Tuesday exports grew 13.4 percent in December year-on-year, down from 13.8 percent growth in November. The growth of imports was down to 11.8 percent from 22.1 percent in November.

While exports were heavily hampered by the economic uncertainty in Europe, domestic demand also remained weak. China's Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said on Monday that a drastic decline in demand made for a bleak foreign trade environment in 2012.

According to Reuters, the demand growth in December was the least in two years while the rise in imports was the lowest in 26 months.

A worsening eurozone crisis and a possible debt default by Greece could see China recording a trade deficit in 2012, the China Daily reported, citing economists. According to Stephane Deo of UBS AG, exports to the European Union were the weakest link in China's 2011 foreign trade. A further deterioration in the EU crisis and a possible default in Greece will make 2012 the toughest year for China in terms of exports, he said, according to the China daily.

The report also said economists have broadly revised the growth of China's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) down to 8 percent in 2012. According to Ma Jun, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Greater China, GDP will grow 8.3 percent in 2012, down from a previous growth estimate of 9.1 percent.

Because of weakening property investment and a slowdown in exports, the first quarter of 2012 will see a deceleration in growth ... We predict quarter-on-quarter GDP growth for the fourth quarter will be 7.3 percent, and in the first quarter of 2012 it will hit 6.4 percent, Ma said, the Daily reported.

Li Wei, an economist at Standard Chartered in Shanghai, said half of China's export markets are slowing in the first half of the year and that this makes expectations for growth downbeat, Reuters reported.

China had eased monetary policy in November in the face of the weak exports prospects. The banks' reserve ratio was cut by 50 basis points in order to make more credit available to corporates that faced headwind. Analysts say more policy easing is on the cards.

According to Reuters, analysts said in a December poll that Beijing could lower banks' reserve requirements by another 200 basis points in 2012.