Chinese exports faced a steeper decline than anticipated in October, reflecting the impact of deteriorating overseas demand. Simultaneously, an unexpected surge in imports led to a significant reduction in China’s trade surplus, marking its lowest level in 17 months.
Data released by the General Administration of Customs on Tuesday revealed that China’s trade balance fell far below expectations, recording a figure of $56.53 billion. This outcome missed the projected surplus of $81.95 billion and marked a substantial drop from the $77.71 billion surplus reported the previous month. The current trade surplus level is the lowest China has experienced since May 2022, a period when the nation’s economic activity was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chinese exports experienced a year-on-year decline of 6.4% in October, surpassing expectations for a 5.4% decrease. This marked an acceleration from the 6.2% drop observed in the preceding month. The primary driver behind this decline was the worsening economic conditions in China’s major trading partners, particularly Europe and the United States.
Chinese business activity data for October also indicated that local businesses, especially those in the manufacturing sector, were grappling with weakened overseas demand. Foreign importers were under increased pressure due to high interest rates and persistent inflation, affecting the demand for Chinese exports.
However, there was a modest improvement in local demand, potentially attributed to a series of stimulus measures implemented by the Chinese government to stimulate economic growth. Chinese imports defied expectations by growing 3%, outperforming the anticipated 4.8% decline and showing an improvement from the 6.2% drop recorded in September.
The trade data released on Tuesday underscores ongoing challenges for the Chinese economy, particularly for its key export sectors. This situation is a concern, even though China’s economy had performed better than expected in the third quarter of the year. Weaker-than-expected business activity data for the start of the last quarter of 2023 has raised concerns.
To address these challenges and stimulate economic activity, Beijing is preparing to launch a substantial 1 trillion yuan ($136 billion) bond issuance in the coming months, primarily aimed at boosting infrastructure spending. While this initiative is expected to support some economic growth, it is clear that China’s export-oriented sectors may continue to face difficulties, particularly as the eurozone grapples with the prospect of a recession and U.S. interest rates continue to rise.
The trade data reflects the complex and ever-evolving economic landscape that China is navigating, shaped by both domestic and global factors, which impact its trade balance, export performance, and overall economic health.