China's export, import data fuel growth hopes

China registered stronger-than-expected trade performance in September, boosting hopes of it meeting growth target this year and alleviating the pressure on top leaders ahead of a Communist Party meeting next week.

Fuelled by increased global demand and an improving US economy, China's exports rose 15.3 per cent from a year earlier, more than the 12 per cent market estimate. Imports rebounded with a 7 per cent spike after two straight months of decline.

The trade data released by the customs authorities on Monday morning leaves a smaller trade surplus of US$31 billion (S$39.45), which will lower appreciation pressure on the renminbi currency, compared to the US$41 billion forecast and the record US$49.8 billion registered in August.

"The good momentum is expected to continue in the fourth quarter," said Customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng at a briefing in Beijing, citing recovering global economies and stronger external demand as reasons.

Mixed trade data in the past two months had deepened concerns over the world's No 2 economy which is also bogged down by a property slump and contraction in industrial activity.

China's export grew 9.4 per cent year-on-year in August and 14.5 per cent in July. Imports unexpectedly shrank 1.6 per cent in July, followed by another 2.4 per cent dip a month later.

Top Chinese officials have had to downplay the need to introduce stimulus measures and stressed China's preference for slower but quality growth for longer-term sustainability.

Over the weekend, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said the economy "will continue to expand at a steady pace" while Premier Li Keqiang said on his visit to Europe that China prefers reforms to boost the economy.

Economist Alastair Chan of Moody's Analytics said the September data shows that trade has bounced back to normal levels.

"Certainly, it has strengthed the case for less stimulus measures," he told The Straits Times.

More clues on whether China is on track to meet its 2014 growth target of 7.5 per cent will come in a slew of economic data to be released this week on inflation, bank credit, money supply and forex reserves.

The third quarter GDP figures will be unveiled next Tuesday (Oct 21), amid the Communist Party's fourth plenary session of its decision-making Central Committee from next Monday to Thursday, which will discuss reforms including economic, social and legal.

China's growth this year is forecast by some to dip to 7.3 per cent, the slowest since 1990, and to 7 per cent in 2015. A median estimate of analysts by Bloomberg showed the economy likely grew 7.2 per cent last quarter, the slowest in more than five years.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg