China’s export and import growth unexpectedly accelerated in January, defying signs the world’s second-largest economy will slow while fueling speculation that fake shipments are resurfacing.
Overseas shipments rose 10.6 percent from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said Wednesday in Beijing, a pace that may be distorted by false invoices and holidays and compares with the median projection of economists for a 0.1 percent gain.
Imports advanced 10 percent, leaving a trade surplus of $31.9 billion, the widest for January since 2009.
Asian stocks extended gains and the Australian dollar jumped as the report provided some evidence of support for an economy that’s projected by analysts to grow at its slowest pace in 24 years in 2014. Economists were split over whether the figures were exaggerated again after a crackdown by authorities last year on the use of inflated export invoices to disguise capital inflows.
“The January trade data are puzzling,” with a divergence from figures reported by Taiwan and South Korea that previously showed a “good correlation,” said Ding Shuang, senior China economist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund. “Inflated invoices aren’t extinguished, although it’s much less severe now than a year earlier.”
China’s exporters have been challenged by a yuan that’s appreciated about 2.8 percent against the U.S. dollar in the last 12 months. The yuan weakened 0.04 percent to 6.0630 per dollar.
Economists at Nomura Holdings Inc. and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. questioned the extent to which the January data indicate strength in the economy.
“We suspect that export over-invoicing activities have re-emerged,” while import gains indicated a “front-loading effect before the Chinese New Year,” ANZ analysts including Liu Li-Gang in Hong Kong wrote in a note. “It is important to note that China’s regional trading partners such as Taiwan and South Korea registered very weak January exports.”
Taiwan and South Korea both reported exports fell in January from a year earlier. “It’s better to look at China’s trade by bundling January and February together,” Citigroup’s Ding said.