March 7 (Bloomberg) -- Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said exports rose about 7 percent over the first two months of the year, suggesting that February’s number will be below all forecasts in a Bloomberg News survey.
Outbound shipments gained about 7 percent over January and February combined, while imports rose more than that, Chen said today during a briefing in Beijing at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. The median forecast in a survey compiled before he spoke was for a 32 percent gain in February exports from a year earlier, a number due March 10.
Nomura Holdings Inc. said Chen’s commment today indicated exports grew only 18.7 percent, less than any estimate in the survey, and Societe Generale SA revised its forecast to 18 percent. Weaker shipments from the world’s largest exporting nation may undermine confidence in the global recovery as equity markets sink and Greece tries to secure a rescue package.
“Export growth is ‘‘likely to surprise sharply on the downside,’’ said Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slid 0.8 percent as of 3:18 p.m. in Tokyo, falling for a third day, the longest stretch so far this year.
Chen said that ‘‘arduous efforts’’ will be needed to meet a goal of increasing China’s trade by 10 percent this year, adding that the situation may improve in the second half of the year. Together, imports and exports rose about 7 percent in the first two months, he said.
China has allowed the yuan to weaken against the dollar this year, aiding exporters, as Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis clouds the outlook for overseas sales. The currency traded at 6.3126 per dollar as of 2:22 p.m. in Shanghai, down about 0.4 percent this year.
Exports fell 0.5 percent in January alone because of weakness in global demand and the disruption of a weeklong Lunar New Year holiday. Before that data was released, Chen said in an interview that the numbers ‘‘cannot make us optimistic.”
Forecasting China’s trade is more difficult in January and February because of the holiday, which varies in timing from year to year.
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