BEIJING: China’s monthly trade surplus hit $60.6 billion in February, the government said on Sunday, a new record for the world’s second-largest economy.
Exports leapt 48.3 percent year-on-year to $169.2 billion while imports fell 20.5 percent to $108.6 billion, Customs said on its website.
The country’s trade surplus, long a source of tensions with its trading partners, rose above a previous all-time monthly high of $60.0 billion recorded in January.
But analysts were pessimistic about the outlook for China’s exports and blamed the weak imports reading on falling commodity prices, with stringent bank financing for traders also a factor.
China is a key driver of global growth but its economy grew 7.4 percent in 2014, its weakest for almost a quarter of a century, and recent indicators show signs the slowdown is continuing.
Customs attributed the surge in exports to a rise in outbound shipments ahead of the Lunar New Year, which fell on February 19 this year.
“Affected by the Spring Festival factors, export companies in the country again rushed to export ahead of the holiday and only resumed working after it,” the statement said.
The Lunar New Year fell on January 31 in 2014, followed by a week-long national holiday, leading to a low comparison base for this February.
For the first two months of the year, China’s trade surplus totalled $120.7 billion, said the statement.
The figure stood at $8.9 billion in the same period last year, Customs data showed.
“We still see strong headwinds facing China’s exports this year,” ANZ economists Liu Ligang and Zhou Hao said in a research note, pointing to a continuing contraction streak in export orders.
Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday announced a lowered growth target of “approximately 7 percent” for 2015, and—underscoring concern—the central People’s Bank of China last weekend cut benchmark interest rates for the second time in three months.
Li also cut China’s trade growth target for this year to “around 6 percent,” after trade expanded 3.4 percent last year, below the 7.5 percent goal and the third consecutive year it had been missed amid softened domestic and foreign demand.
China’s huge trade surpluses were long a source of friction with the United States as the workshop of the world pumped out manufactured goods and US debt mounted, but the issue has receded in more recent years.
In the January-February period, China’s exports to the European Union, the United States and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the top three trade partners of the country, increased by 13 percent, 21.2 percent and 38.4 percent respectively.
But imports from all three regions declined, falling 10.3 percent with the EU, 16.7 percent with the US and 18.2 percent with the Asean countries, indicating domestic demand in China remained weak.
China’s exports to Japan, with which it is embroiled in bitter disputes over maritime territory and wartime history, fell 4.1 percent in the two-month period, while imports from the neighbor decreased by 13.8 percent.