China exports slide 6.1% in Aug as tepid demand adds to growth challenges

A container box is loaded on to a truck at a port in Rizhao, Shandong province.
A container box is loaded on to a truck at a port in Rizhao, Shandong province. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China's exports declined in August, adding to growth pressures facing the world's second-largest economy.

Overseas shipments fell 6.1 per cent from a year earlier in yuan terms, the customs administration said on Tuesday (Sept 8). The reading compared with a fall of 8.9 per cent in July. Imports dropped 14.3 percent, widening from an 8.6 per cent decrease, leaving a trade surplus of 368 billion yuan (S$82.5 billion).

The data highlights tepid demand around the world outside of the US and sliding prices for inputs to China's factories and their shipments abroad. The latest steps to boost growth have included the fifth rate cut since November and the People's Bank of China's unexpected move to devalue the yuan last month.

"China is set to miss its export growth target for this year, and there will be no help from the external demand side for economic growth," said Liu Xuezhi, a macro-economy analyst at Bank of Communications Co. "China's modest yuan devaluation has yet to show any effect on exporters."

Given the weak export picture, the government will have to do more to stabilize growth, Mr Liu said.

"The government is already trying hard to boost infrastructure spending, and that will be more important than exports for overall growth," he said.

The chemical explosion in the northern port city of Tianjin weighed on shipments, though the impact may be short-lived, analysts at Goldman Sachs led by Song Yu wrote in a report ahead of the data.

The exports figure compared with an estimate for a 6.6 per cent drop in dollar terms, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Economists saw a 7.9 per cent decline in dollar terms for imports.

The offshore yuan swung from an earlier decline to trade 0.09 per cent stronger at 6.4762 against the greenback as of 10:52 am in Hong Kong. The trade surplus widened from 263 billion yuan in July.

China's exports may rise about 2 per cent in 2015 from last year while imports may slide about 10 per cent, according to a State Information Center and China Development Bank report published by Shanghai Securities News last week.

Successive interest rate cuts since November and stock-market volatility this year point toward "increasing misgivings over whether China actually retains the capacity to meet its projected economic growth targets," the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said in its 2015-2016 position paper released on Tuesday.