Wednesday, 12 November 2008

China posts record trade surplus, Japan faring less well

China announced a big stimulus plan on Sunday but its trade performance in October provides just a hint of a looming slowdown. From AFP/CNA:

China said on Tuesday its trade surplus hit a monthly all-time high of 35.2 billion dollars in October, as exports remained strong despite the global economic turmoil.

The surplus, up 29.9 percent from a year ago, reflected demand for China's exports outside the United States and Europe, but it was also the result of a marked slowdown in imports...

Exports in October rose 19.2 percent from a year ago to 128.3 billion dollars, compared with 21.5 percent growth in September, according to the data from the Customs Administration...

A slowdown in import growth, rising 15.6 percent in October from a year earlier to 93.1 billion dollars, was another important factor.

Meanwhile, China had good news on the inflation front, with the CPI rising 4.0 percent in October, the lowest rate since May last year, compared with 4.6 percent the previous month, giving it greater scope for interest rate cuts.

The deterioration in Japan's trade performance has been more apparent recently and the trend continued in September, with the current account surplus narrowing in September as exports edged up just 2.1 percent from a year earlier.

Japan's leading indicators have also been weak at best lately.

Core private-sector machinery orders were up 5.5 percent in September. However, they were down 10.4 percent for the quarter as a whole.

Meanwhile, sentiment among Japanese merchants deteriorated in October as the Economy Watchers Index fell to 22.6, the lowest since the survey started in August 2001.

Japanese bank lending did accelerate in October, as Bloomberg reported yesterday.

Loans, excluding those by credit associations, rose 2.5 percent in October, the fastest pace since August 1992, the Bank of Japan said today. Lending grew by 1.8 percent in September.

But this is not necessarily a positive sign.

"Because of turmoil in the markets, companies are turning to banks for funds as they can't issue bonds and commercial paper," said Michio Kitahara, associate director-general of the central bank's surveillance department. "Banks are now receiving a lot of requests for funds from large companies."

Still, the Japanese economy is estimated to have grown in the third quarter, but barely. From Bloomberg:

Gross domestic product rose an annualized 0.1 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30, economists predicted a Cabinet Office report will show Nov. 17. The world's second-largest economy contracted 3 percent in the second quarter...

"Marginally positive real GDP growth in the third quarter should probably be viewed as the calm before the storm," said Kyohei Morita, chief economist at Barclays Capital in Tokyo.

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