China Defends Export Data After Economists’ Skepticism

China’s customs administration said every dollar of trade is documented, defending the quality of export data that analysts at UBS AG and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. said may fail to capture the true picture.

“Customs import and export statistics are based upon actual customs declarations,” the General Administration of Customs said in an e-mailed statement yesterday, responding to questions submitted by Bloomberg News on Jan. 11. “In our published export and import data, every dollar has a corresponding customs declaration document to back it.”

China’s unexpected 14.1 percent export gain in December from a year earlier spurred skepticism from economists at banks including UBS, which cited discrepancies with other nations’ trade data. The Ministry of Commerce said today that exporters hurried shipments before a waiver of inspection fees expired at the end of the month and it was wrong to speculate that the data was false.

“It’s good that China’s customs bureau is responding to concerns, showing an awareness within the government of the need to communicate with the financial and business community and the public,” said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in Hong Kong, who previously worked for the World Bank in Beijing. At the same time, “saying that all of the data is backed up by customs declarations does not remove people’s concerns about fabricated declarations.”

December Surprise

The gain in December compared with a 2.9 percent increase in November and the 5 percent median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 40 analysts.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.4 percent as of the 11:30 a.m. local-time break in trading after the nation reported a decline in foreign direct investment at the Commerce Ministry briefing in Beijing where spokesman Shen Danyang said the December export numbers were accurate. Investment from abroad fell 4.5 percent in December from a year earlier.

“There’s mixed evidence on on whether exports were quite good in the second half of last year -- there’s some support in the data but also some items that are a little bit odd,” Kuijs said. “China’s exports to Hong Kong show very strong growth, but when you look at the data from the Hong Kong side, the Hong Kong imports from China are much less strong.”

Trade Zones

After the release of the December data, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and ANZ cited a divergence from overseas orders in a manufacturing index, while Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. said the increase could indicate exporters’ rush to finish year-end orders and government pressure to report exports before the end of the year to get closer to the official 2012 target of 10 percent trade growth.

“It is possible that local governments may have tried to boost exports data by either making round trips in special trade zones” or by exporting “earlier than otherwise in an attempt to improve the annual exports data,” Goldman Sachs’ Beijing-based economists Yu Song and Yin Zhang wrote in a Jan. 10 note. “Having said that, there is no concrete evidence to suggest this is what actually happened.”

Customs collects trade statistics “in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations,” according to the agency’s statement. Companies within special-trade zones, or bonded zones, that have actual transactions with overseas partners are included in the statistics, while transactions with domestic companies aren’t included in data, customs said.

— With assistance by Xin Zhou

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