In US dollar-denominated terms, China’s February exports came to $135.2bn, a 20.7% plunge year-on-year (YoY). That was the largest drop since February 2016. Monthly imports also declined 5.2%. China’s trade surplus narrowed sharply to $4.12bn, compared with $39.16bn in January, data released by the General Administration of Customs on Friday shows.
In renminbi-denominated terms, exports fell 16.6% and imports fell 0.3%.
“While the Lunar New Year holidays resulted in large swings in the trade data, the moderation trend in China’s exports is clear,” Ho Woei Chen, an economist at UOB Group, wrote in a Friday note.
China's trade surplus with the US reached the lowest level in two years, hitting $14.7bn, compared with $27.3bn in January. Exports to the US saw the biggest drop of 28.6%. Exports to the EU and Japan also saw 13.2% and 9.5% decline YoY in February, respectively.
“Despite all the positive signs of the China-US trade talk, prospects for export growth are clouded by slowing global demand,” Ma Xiaoping, economist at HSBC, wrote in a Friday note. “The filtering-through of China's stimulus should lead to a rebound in imports. Yet the magnitude will likely be moderate considering that the focus of the stimulus this time is on the private corporate sector rather than property and construction.”
The Shanghai Stock index lost 4.4% in value on Friday after the disappointing trade numbers.
On Saturday, Ni Yuefeng, director of the General Administration of Customs, told reporters from Xinhua, a state media agency, that the change in exports is a “normal phenomenon” because of the Lunar New Year. He disclosed that by March 9 this year, exports had already grown 39.9% compared with the same period last year.
During a Sunday press conference, Yi Gang, governor of PBoC, responded to a question about the progress on trade talks saying that the two sides talked about issues such as maintaining a market-driven foreign exchange rate and following the international standard of market data disclosure.
Over the weekend, foreign media reported that a trade deal may not be imminent, despite plenty of hope last week.
Terry Branstad, the US ambassador to China, told the Wall Street Journal that the preparations for a signing meeting is not yet under way.
“Both sides agree that there has to be significant progress, meaning a feeling that they’re very close before that happens,” he said. “We’re not there yet. But we’re closer than we’ve been for a very long time.”
On Sunday morning, the PBoC released its key financial data for February.
New renminbi loans dropped to Rmb886bn ($132bn) and aggregate financing dropped to Rmb703bn in February. Although both numbers are significantly lower than in January, which hit Rmb3.23tr and Rmb4.64tr, new renminbi loans in February saw a Rmb46.5bn increase YoY.
“Combining January and February data, we see still significant monetary easing,” Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura, wrote in a Sunday note.
Lu also expected a rebound in aggregate financing in March and April, as well as an overreaction from the market, especially after the market excitement following the release of January data.
In a Monday note, Yu Song, economist at Beijing Gao Hua Securities, saw the slowdown in credit growth as a result of a less supportive policy stance.
In the first two months, corporations issued a total of Rmb554.6bn bonds, a Rmb374bn increase YoY. In February alone, corporations issued Rmb80.6bn, a Rmb19.1bn increase YoY.
Tesla received Rmb3.5bn syndicated loans from Chinese banks for the construction of its Shanghai factory, which plans to start production at the end of this year, local media reported.
The PBoC hosted its first fintech committee meeting on Friday.The committee said that this year it will lay out a fintech development plan, establish a regulatory system and push the central bank to deepen fintech infrastructure research. Lastly, it will try to use fintech technologies to improve loan issuing procedures and lower funding costs for private and small enterprises.