Econintersect: China's balance of trade rose to a suplus of $318.6 billion in January 2014. This was the second highest month in five years. The surplus was 24% larger than the previous month and 9.3% above the same month a year ago. The blowout number was 41% larger than the monthly average for 2013 and 88% bigger than the monthly average for 2012. Both exports (up 10.6%) and imports (up 10.0%) showed strong gains from a year earlier. The data buoyed Asia/Pacific stocks and boosted the currencies of countries that export to China, such as Australia with the Aus$ up 0.2%.
The only month higher than January 2014 since January 2009 was October 2012 at 321.73, slightly less than 1% larger.
Andrew Sullivan, director of Asian sales trading at Kim Eng Securities was quoted by CNBC:
"Overall, it is quite encouraging. I mean on the basis that China is still moving itself from being export-driven to looking at boosting growth in its domestic market. It's still managing to maintain its source of income to be able to achieve that."
Also quoted by CNBC, Michael Every, head of financial markets research for Asia-Pacific at Rabobank, called the numbers "suspicious". Every cited the unusually large amount of exports to Hong Kong, hardly a major consumer of mainland products with its population of only 7 million.
A note of caution from Simon Rabinovitch in the Financial Times:
Chinese economic data in January and February has long been plagued with distortions because of the timing of the new year holiday, which leads many of the country's factories to halt or slow production for several weeks. A clearer read on the country's growth trajectory will emerge in March when the government publish a wider range of data that combine the first two months of the year to take account of the holiday effect.
Another caution from Louis Kuijs of RBS (Financial Times):
"We are left with a nagging feeling that perhaps issues such as over-invoicing have risen sharply in intensity early this year."
A year ago a scandal broke over the practice of inflating invoices to mask capital transfers, avoiding China's attempts at capital controls. But this month compares year-over-year to a month with inflated data (January 2013) and still is higher.
- China Balance of Trade (Trading Economics, 12 February 2014)
- China posts blowout trade data, exports jump 10.6% (Li Ann Wong, CNBC, 11 February 2014)
- Strong China trade growth confounds economists (Simon Rabinovitch, Financial Times, 12 February 2014)
- Aussie rises on upbeat China trade data; U.S. dollar steady (Ian Chua and Masayuki Kitano, Reuters, 12 February 2014)