China’s Trade Surplus Hits Record as Pandemic Fuels Exports

China’s exports continued to expand at a strong pace in December, pushing the trade surplus to a record high in the month and helping to underpin the economy’s recovery.

  • Exports grew 18.1% in dollar terms in December from a year earlier, while imports rose 6.5%, the customs agency said Thursday, beating economists’ expectations. That left a trade surplus of $78.17 billion for the month, higher than the $72 billion median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists
  • For the full year, the trade surplus reached $535 billion, a 27% increase from 2019 and the highest since 2015

Exports surged last year as the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns fueled overseas demand for personal protective gear and stay-at-home electronic devices. With the pandemic largely under control domestically, factories were able to resume production earlier than most other places, enabling China to meet rising global demand.

December’s shipments eased from November’s bumper 21.1% expansion, but still remained strong as the global economy continues to recover.

New lockdowns in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere could continue to spur demand for Chinese-made consumer goods, though they will weigh on the global recovery. China is also battling a new wave of virus cases, with restrictions to contain the infections in some areas already causing disruptions to business activity.

Li Kuiwen, an official at China’s General Administration of Customs, said the trade surplus may keep growing this year, supported by an expected recovery in the global economy and stable domestic growth.

Jian Chang, chief China economist at Barclays Plc, said the data is in line with strong regional figures elsewhere, like in South Korea and Vietnam. Shipping costs have also soared because of a shortage of containers, reflecting booming conditions ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.

Read More: Surging Shipping Rates Are a New Headwind for the Global Economy

“The external recovery has continued,” said Chang. “Chinese manufacturers have flexibly adjusted their production lines to produce goods to meet the demand through the new Covid era.” Both pandemic and non-pandemic related goods are growing strongly, she said.

What Bloomberg’s Economics Says…

The data showed external demand is driving China’s economic recovery, and this will likely continue in the coming months. Exports should jump in the first quarter, partly due to stonger U.S. demand from the expected economic relief package.

— David Qu, China economist

For the full report, see here

The data probably won’t shift the central bank from its stance of gradually withdrawing monetary stimulus, without any sharp turn in policy, Chang said, adding there’s unlikely to be any interest-rate cut or hike this year.

Other Details

  • China’s exports to the U.S. surged 34.5% in December from a year earlier, while imports of American goods rose 47.7%, the most since January 2013.
  • Click here for breakdown of China’s exports by country, and here for imports
  • For the full year, the trade surplus with the U.S. was $316.9 billion, 7% higher than in 2019
  • The 10-member bloc of Southeast Asian nations became China’s top trading partner, followed by the European Union and the U.S.

— With assistance by James Mayger, Lin Zhu, Lucille Liu, and Ailing Tan

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