China exports rise, hinting at a glimmer of revival

New York TimesOctober 13, 2012 

— China’s exports to the United States and Southeast Asia rose last month while the country’s money supply expanded faster than expected, Chinese government agencies said Saturday, in the first signs that the Chinese economy might be starting to bottom out.

But strengthening exports to the U.S. – up 5.5 percent in September compared with the same month a year ago – could also increase trade frictions at a politically touchy time for both countries. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, and President Barack Obama have competed this autumn to present themselves as more willing to confront China on trade issues.

China’s own Communist Party leadership has been wary of appearing too conciliatory toward the United States ahead of its Party Congress, which starts two days after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6 and is expected to produce a new slate of members of the ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo.

After months of gloom, Chinese exporters are starting to voice hope about demand in the United States.

“We are beginning to see some improvement in the U.S. market – the second half of this year is looking better than the first half, with our U.S. orders up by roughly 8 to 10 percent,” said Dora Zhao, the sales manager at the Zhuhai Xiangrui Safety Home Appliance Co., which manufactures air purifiers in Zhuhai, in southeastern China.

Rising imports often coincide with a strengthening economy, as more prosperous and confident consumers buy more foreign goods. By that measure, the United States economy may be faring better, but the European Union is struggling – China’s exports to Europe dropped 10.7 percent last month from a year ago.

Strong Chinese exports to the U.S. in September also tend to be a sign that U.S. retailers expect fairly robust sales at Christmas, as goods for late autumn sales tend to leave Chinese docks in September and October.

China has exported more to the United States than to the European Union every month since February, and September showed the biggest gap yet between the two markets, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed. By contrast, the EU had bought more Chinese goods than the U.S. every month for the preceding 41/2 years.

The composition of Chinese exports to all countries continued to shift toward higher-value products, with China posting sharp increases in exports of consumer electronics, electric motors and steel. Economists had anticipated some increase in Chinese exports last month as Apple began importing huge quantities of the iPhone 5 to the United States.

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