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11 Dec, 2013

Western holiday consumption lifts China’s exports, but pressure remains


BEIJING, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) — China’s exports grew faster in November thanks to Christmas consumption in Western countries and a recovering global economy, but pressure remains for future growth, experts said.

The country’s trade surplus hit 33.8 billion U.S. dollars in November, the highest since 2008, as exports gained 12.7 percent year on year and imports rose 5.3 percent, according to the General Administration of Customs on Dec. 8.

Foreign trade gained 7.7 percent year on year to hit 3.8 trillion U.S. dollars, above the market expectation of 7 percent, thanks to a Christmas shopping boom in the United States and the European Union, said Zhao Jinping of the State Council’s Development and Research Center, a government think tank.

Economic recovery in the United States and the European Union boosted global demand and lifted enterprises’ expectations, said Zhao.

The November data were in line with China’s official figures for its manufacturing expansion, as the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) stood at 51.4 in November, clinging to October’s 18-month high, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

A reading below 50 indicates contraction, while one above 50 signals expansion.

Overall, the sequential growth trend in China’s exports has been rising at a decent pace in recent months, suggesting that China’s export sector is benefiting from the current upturn in the global economy, said Zhu Haibin, J.P. Morgan China Chief Economist.

The data reflected the gradual shift of investment growth from infrastructure and real estate fixed assets investment, which are generally more commodity-intensive, to manufacturing investment, Zhu added.

Despite the upbeat data, Chinese manufacturers will still face difficulties as they lose their traditional competitive edge in price because of higher costs, intensifying competition and the rising yuan, said Zhao.

The Chinese yuan hit a record high of 6.113 against the U.S. dollar on Monday, and the sharp trade surplus in November is expected to further aggravate pressure for the yuan to appreciate.

Exports are unlikely to grow quickly in the first quarter of 2014, and bulk commodity prices may see fluctuations due to higher expectations of U.S. QE tapering, said Lu Lei, professor at Guangdong University of Finance.

China set a target for year-on-year foreign trade growth of 8 percent in 2013. The target is higher than last year’s real growth, but below the 10 percent target set for last year.

Customs data showed that the trade surplus hit 33.8 billion U.S. dollars in November, the second consecutive month for China to report more than 30 billion U.S. dollars of trade surplus, which triggered concerns over overseas hot money.

China’s foreign exchange regulator on Dec. 7 vowed to intensify supervision of commercial banks’ trade finance to curb fake financing and prevent abnormal flows of cross-border foreign exchanges.

The regulation will curb arbitrage trading, which may lead to inflated export growth, meaning companies may misreport exports to obtain tax rebates or bypass government fund controls to channel funds into the mainland to profit from gaps in foreign exchange rates and interest rates.

Zhu Haibin expects some steady, trend-like growth in the global economy led by developed economies in the coming quarters, with potential risks on the upside, which should provide support to China’s exports.

Meanwhile, the yuan’s Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER) appreciation since the beginning of the year may still exert some near-term drag on the export sector, Zhu added.