China’s Trade Surplus Surges to $31.5 Billion as Exports Exceed Estimates

China’s trade surplus surged to $31.5 billion, the highest level in more than two years, as exports rose to a record.

Outbound shipments climbed 20.4 percent from a year earlier in July, compared with the 17 percent median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 25 economists. Imports jumped 22.9 percent, the customs bureau said on its website today. The surplus exceeded a median forecast of $27.4 billion.

The world’s biggest exporting nation faces the threat of weakening demand as developed nations from Europe to the U.S. and Japan struggle to rein in their debt burdens. The U.S. Federal Reserve countered a global rout in stocks by pledging yesterday to keep interest rates at a record low through mid- 2013 and to use additional measures “as appropriate.”

“The turmoil in global financial markets hasn’t hit China’s trade sector yet,” said Yao Wei, a Hong Kong-based economist with Societe Generale SA, who had the second most- accurate trade surplus forecast of 24 economists in the survey. “The real challenge is ahead.”

Twelve-month non-deliverable yuan forwards strengthened 0.6 percent to 6.3650 per dollar in Hong Kong as of 2:39 p.m. local time, set for the biggest gain since October on the trade figures and the Fed’s statement. The yuan touched a 17-year high of 6.4120 today.

Exports were $175.1 billion and imports were $143.6 billion last month, the customs bureau said. The expansion in imports compared with a median 22 percent estimate and a 19.3 percent increase the previous month.

Commodity Prices

The value of inbound shipments was boosted by higher global commodity prices. Imports of iron ore in the first seven months rose 7.9 percent to 390 million tons while average import prices jumped 39.1 percent to $162.8 per ton, the customs bureau said.

Soybean imports jumped 24 percent to the highest level this year, customs data show, as demand from hog farmers climbed as expanded their herds. A supply shortage boosted retail pork prices 57 percent in June and July from a year earlier. Net imports of crude oil fell to the lowest in nine months as refinery maintenance reduced demand.

Export growth, which accelerated for the first time in four months, compared with a 17.9 percent gain in June and a 38 percent increase in July last year.

Japan Recovery

“The export sector is benefiting from a V-shape recovery in Japan and strong growth in emerging Asia,” Societe Generale’s Yao said. Shipments to Japan jumped 27.2 percent in July from a year earlier while sales to the U.S. rose 9.5 percent and those to the European Union climbed 22.3 percent, customs data show.

China’s trade surplus, a cause of friction with trading partners including the U.S., was $22.3 billion in June and $28.7 billion in July 2010. The gap for the first seven months of the year was $76.2 billion compared with $83.9 billion in the same period last year.

The surplus is boosting China’s record $3.2 trillion foreign-exchange reserves and pushing more cash into the nation’s financial system, complicating the central bank’s efforts to rein in lending to cool inflation. The reserve requirement for the nation’s biggest lenders has already risen 450 basis points to a record 21.5 percent since November and interest rates have increased five times since mid October.

“The government is facing the challenge of weighing the risk of accumulating foreign-exchange reserves that have nothing attractive to invest in and the downside risks to growth and exports as external uncertainties rise,” said Chang Jian, a Hong Kong-based economist with Barclays Capital.

Yuan Appreciation

The government is “likely to allow continued yuan appreciation,” she said, as the trade surplus rebounds in the second half. Chang forecasts the yuan will gain 5 percent against the U.S. dollar over the coming year.

Exports from other Asian nations are also proving resilient amid faltering growth in Europe and the U.S.

South Korea’s outbound shipments grew 27.3 percent last month, the government said Aug. 1, rebounding from a 20-month low and beating forecasts for a 17.1 percent gain. Taiwan’s overseas shipments rose 17.6 percent in July to a record value, double the median estimate.

Still, Singapore today cut its forecast for export growth this year, saying that risks have increased amid “sluggish” growth in developed economies. Market sentiment remains fragile in the European Union amid concern that a debt crisis will spread from peripheral economies, the trade ministry said.

Recession Worries

“Concerns of a double-dip recession in the U.S. have emerged, as upcoming plans for fiscal consolidation and weak labor and housing markets dampen consumer and business sentiments,” it said.

U.S. quarterly economic expansion tends to lead China’s export growth by about two quarters, according to Lu Ting, a Hong Kong-based economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“So the pain of U.S. growth deceleration could be gradually felt by China exporters in the rest of this year and early 2012,” he said. Lu estimates China’s export growth will ease to 16 percent in the second half from 24 percent in the first half, while the pace of expansion in imports will slow to 23 percent from 27.6 percent as commodity prices decline and domestic growth moderates.

Container-shipping rates have fallen on Asia-U.S. and Asia- Europe routes as the global fleet expands and demand cools. China Cosco Holdings Co., the world’s largest operator of dry- bulk ships, said yesterday that it probably made a loss in the first half, partly because of rising fuel costs.

--Victoria Ruan, Zheng Lifei. Editors: Nerys Avery, Ken McCallum

To contact Bloomberg News staff on this story: Victoria Ruan in Beijing at +86-10-6649-7570 vruan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Panckhurst in Hong Kong at ppanckhurst@bloomberg.net

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