China trade surplus rebounds in January: Official figures

BEIJING (AFP) - China's trade surplus surged in January, according to data on Wednesday that showed exports strengthening in a potentially brighter note for the world's second-biggest economy after a disappointing performance of late.

The surplus rose 14.0 per cent year-on-year in January to US$31.86 billion (S$40 billion), the General Administration of Customs said, rebounding from a decline the previous month.

Exports jumped more than expected, increasing 10.6 per cent to US$207.13 billion, while imports were up 10.0 per cent at US$175.27 billion.

The median forecast in a survey of 11 economists by The Wall Street Journal predicted only a 0.1 per cent increase in exports, which had risen 4.3 per cent in December. But the overall trade surplus had fallen 17.4 per cent in January year-on-year to US$25.64 billion.

"Exports and consumption could be the bright spots for the Chinese economy this year," Mizuho economist Shen Jianguang said.

China's annual trade in goods passed the US$4 trillion mark for the first time in 2013, when the country probably surpassed the United States as the world's largest physical trading nation.

But recent signals for the economy have been mixed.

China's official purchasing managers' index (PMI), a gauge of its manufacturing sector, slipped to a five-month low in January, confirming a slowdown in factory activity.

British bank HSBC, meanwhile, announced that China's manufacturing sector shrank in January for the first time in six months, with its PMI index recording 49.5, placing it in contraction territory.

January's trade and manufacturing results came after China's economy registered flat growth of 7.7 per cent in 2013, maintaining its slowest expansion in more than a decade.

Gross domestic product (GDP) expansion for the October-December quarter also came in at 7.7 per cent, the National Bureau of Statistics said last month, slowing from 7.8 per cent in the previous three months.

The 2013 GDP figure was the same as that for 2012 - which was the worst rate of growth since 1999 - although it exceeded the government's growth target for the year, which was declared as 7.5 per cent.

China's economy is expected to slow to 7.5 per cent this year, according to the median forecast in a survey of 14 economists by AFP last month.

China is a key driver of the global economy but is widely seen as facing slower expansion in the years ahead. Its leaders have vowed to change its growth model so that consumers and other private actors play the leading role, rather than huge and often wasteful state investment.

Within the past decade Chinese growth was regularly in double digits, but it has been on a slowing trend and the 2013 GDP result showed growth in single figures for three consecutive years for the first time since 2002.

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