Chinese exports fell 11.2% year-over-year in January, while imports fell 18.8% in the same timeframe, according to data from China’s General Administration of Customs. Economic analysts previously told Reuters that they had expected a 1.9% drop in January exports and a 0.8% drop in imports, after exports fell 1.4% in December year-over-year while imports fell 7.6%.
The economic growth rate in China, the world’s second-largest economy, slowed to a 25-year low of 6.9% in 2015 as the country continues its transition away from manufacturing to services. China’s central bank has attempted to offset slowing with easing measures, including interest rate and reserve requirement ratio cuts. However, according to official data released in January, the economy did grow 6.8% in the fourth quarter of 2015, when compared to the same quarter in 2014.
Analysts from Nomura Holdings, a global investment firm based in Asia, stated that the decline in exports suggests a fall in external demand, though retail sales growth over the week-long Lunar New Year celebrations still point to steady consumption within China. The China Ministry of Commerce reports that retail sales grew 11.2% during the Lunar New Year week, compared with the same week in 2015.
“Chinese trade growth is notoriously volatile during the first quarter due to the shifting timing of Lunar New Year, which makes the monthly data less comparable with the previous year," said Julian Evans-Pritchard, the China economist for Capital Economics.
Evans-Pritchard added that attempts to arbitrage the gap between the offshore and onshore Chinese yuan exchange rate may have also inflated export growth in December. “As such, the slowdown in export growth in January may partly reflect the easing of this (artificial) boost to shipments,” he said. “The gap between the onshore and offshore rates narrowed last month.”