(REUTERS) - Global investors will look to a batch of Chinese data on Friday for evidence that a strong bounce in July trade was not a fluke and that the world's second-largest economy is stabilising after more than two years of slowing growth.
Economists were quick to point out that the overall trend remained subdued and it was too early to treat a 5.1 per cent rise in exports from a year ago and an even bigger 10.9 per cent jump in imports as signs of an imminent turnaround.
Indeed, exports in the three months ended July 31 posted the slowest annual increase since October 2009, Reuters calculations showed.
But Thursday's figures, which handily beat market expectations, raised hopes that China could be spared a sharp slowdown that dismal June figures, when exports fell for the first time in 17 months, seemed to suggest.
Economists polled by Reuters are looking for an annual 9 per cent rise in China's industrial output in July and a 13.5 per cent increase in retail sales. The numbers are due at 5.30am GMT (1.30pm Singapore time).
Fixed asset investment is forecast to have risen 20 per cent in the first seven months of the year, in line with growth in the first six months, while inflation, due at 1.30am GMT (9.30am Singapore time), is forecast to have quickened to a five-month high of 2.8 per cent.
A steadying of the economy would be a relief to China's leaders, fearing that a slump could derail their efforts to rebalance the economy away from its credit and investment-driven model in favour of more consumption.
The economy has slowed in nine of the past 10 quarters and the government has made clear it will accept some slowdown. It has said it remained confident of meeting a 7.5 per cent growth target this year - the lowest in 23 years.
Barclays analysts said the data backed their view that the goal remained within reach.
"We argued last month that the economy is not as weak as suggested by the May to June trade figures," the bank said in a note. "Some improvement in the 'true' export growth in the second half on the back of a recovering US (United States) economy is expected, and has been factored into our baseline China forecast of 7.4 per cent growth in 2013."
China's trade performance has whipsawed this year after data was first inflated by companies reporting fake deals to disguise illicit cash transfers, and then subsequently deflated by the government as it quashed the fictitious transactions.
Signs of China's improving health would also be a fillip for international markets given China's importance as an engine of global economic growth and a top import market for a range of commodities from iron ore to soybeans and crude oil.
While another set of relatively positive numbers should shore up market sentiment, analysts warned against concluding that the upbeat July performance, particularly exceptionally strong imports, was driven by an actual improvement in final demand.
Imports of crude oil and iron ore rebounded from multi-month lows to record highs last month and soy bean purchases hit a record for the second straight month.
But analysts said the rebuilding of depleted stocks and shipments may have also been inflated by unprocessed deals from June.