China’s latest trade data are much worse than anyone expected

No rush.
No rush.
Image: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed
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China’s trade data released today (Feb. 15) show the country’s economic slowdown may be even steeper than feared.

In January, exports from China dropped by 11.2%, the worst fall since March last year. Its imports fell by a massive 18.8%, the 15th month in a row of declines.

Both drops were far worse than expected—analysts estimated exports would fall by less than 2% and imports by less than 1%, a Reuters survey shows.

Weak import data can sometimes be explained in part by a cheaper currency. China’s yuan fell by 1.3% against the dollar in January, after losing 2.2% of its value in the final quarter of 2015. But that isn’t the case here—even in yuan terms, exports dropped significantly, by 6.6% in January. Imports also fell 14.4% in local currency terms.

The disappointing trade figures sparked some investors to raise more questions about the future of the yuan.

But the People’s Bank of China appears to be doing the opposite. It strengthened the currency on Monday, by the most in over three months, in an apparent attempt to allay devaluation fears.