Better-than-expected Sept export figures boost recovery hopes

Export figures improved in September, China's General Administration of Customs announced Wednesday, falling 15.2 percent year-on-year compared to 23.4 percent in August. This better-than-expected data lifted Shanghai stocks.


AFP - China's exports fell at the slowest pace in nine months in September, customs data showed Wednesday, indicating demand for Chinese goods was improving and helping the government sustain the recovery.


The better-than-expected data -- which sent stocks up in Shanghai -- was positive for the world's third-largest economy and may help give the government impetus to next year start unwinding massive stimulus measures, said analysts.


Exports fell 15.2 percent to 115.9 billion dollars on-year in September, customs authorities said. It was the best result since exports fell by 2.8 percent in December as the global crisis began to set in.


In the first nine months of 2009, the trade surplus stood at 135.5 billion dollars, down 26 percent compared with the same period a year ago, the General Administration of Customs said in a statement on its website.


"Today's export numbers are encouraging and in line with recent PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) survey data showing improved export orders," said Brian Jackson, a Hong Kong-based senior strategist at the Royal Bank of Canada.


"Some of the recent US data also point to stronger demand for China's exports in the months ahead."


Jackson said improving demand for Chinese goods would give the government confidence to start reining in massive stimulus measures from next year.


"Chinese growth this year has been heavily reliant on government-directed investment, which is why senior officials have continued to characterise the recovery as not broadly based or firmly established," Jackson said.


"Stronger external demand will provide an alternative source of support for growth and provide scope for Beijing to start tightening policy gradually from early 2010."


China unveiled a four-trillion-yuan (585-billion-dollar) stimulus package last November aimed at propping up the export-dependent economy as demand for Chinese goods plunged amid the deepening global financial crisis.


The massive government-backed investment in infrastructure projects, combined with very low interest rates, appears to be bearing fruit.


China has said it was on track to achieve its target of eight percent growth in 2009 after the economy expanded by 6.1 percent in the first quarter and 7.9 percent in the second quarter.


Before the crisis struck, the country had experienced double-digit annual growth from 2003 to 2007 and again in the first two quarters of last year.


Su Chang, an economist at Beijing research firm CEB Monitor Group, said he expected exports in the current quarter to fall by less than 10 percent compared with the more than 20 percent decline posted in the third quarter.


"(The recovery in foreign demand) would be sustainable -- at least it can sustain for several quarters," Su said.


But Su noted that the trade figures were helped by the fact there were more working days in September this year than in 2008 due to the timing of the National Day holiday.


Imports slipped 3.5 percent to 103 billion dollars in September -- the slowest pace of decline since imports began to fall in November last year.


Exports fell a seasonally adjusted 20.1 percent in September on-year and imports dropped 11.4 percent.


Moody's associate economist Nikhilesh Bhattacharyya said the pick up in imports was being driven by stockpiling.


"Commodity stockpiling appears to have been the major factor behind the improvement in imports, reflected by a record amount of iron ore imports during September," Bhattacharyya said.

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