China's kicks off 2017 with above-forecast trade numbers

A Chinese steel worker helps load steel rods onto a large truck for transport at a plant

China's foreign trade reached 2.18 trillion yuan in January, up by 19.6 percent year-on-year. "While the low base in 2016 could partly explain the strong rebound in imports, we think it is also likely related to the solid investment in the property market". However, Reuters's calculations showed China's overall oil demand growth has been easing during the last three years. Imports increased 16.7 percent, leaving a trade surplus of $51.35 billion. Last week, a reading on factory activity for last month indicated the manufacturing sector was stabilising.

Capital Economics China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said while seasonal factors, including the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday, played a large part in the results, underlying demand appears to have strengthened.

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Louis Kuijs, head Of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong, thinks nothing is certain however: "The worry we have is really about United States trade policy, which is undeniably turning more protectionist..."

While China's exports fell the most previous year since 2009, other major Asian exporters have seen a rebound in recent months, due largely to stronger electronics shipments and higher prices for oil products such a gasoline and petrochemicals. The yuan, or renminbi (RMB), is wallowing near eight-year lows against the greenback as a weaker Chinese economy and the prospect of better returns in the USA lures investors to withdraw their cash from the country.

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Currently, it is still ambiguous how U.S. President Trump would like to shape U.S-China trade relations. But he has not followed through yet on threats to label China a currency manipulator and slap heavy tariffs on Chinese goods.

Thanks to the RMB's much weaker REER, the company forecast that China's exports will improve in 2017. "The worry we have is really about U.S. trade policy, which is undeniably turning more protectionist".

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"We believe this is driven by storage with excess crudes going into storage".

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