Mixed messages from China’s July trade data, released on Thursday.
While exports rose unexpectedly from a year earlier, up 3.3% on July 2018 and the best monthly performance since March.
That was despite the intensifying Trump trade war, imports were again weak – but not for some key commodities.
Imports actually fell 5.6% last month from a year ago – not as bad at the 7.3% slump in June or the 10% drop forecast from the market.
That left the trade surplus at $US45.06 billion, down from the $US50.98 billion in July. The surplus with the US fell to $US27.97 billion from June’s $29.92 billion.
But it was the performance of some major commodities that raised the eyes, especially iron ore (See separate story) where imports bounced back strongly at a time global prices traded at or near 6-year highs.
Imports dropped from the US (-19.1%), Japan (-13%), South Korea (-20.1%), and the EU (-3.3%), but rose from Australia (18.7%) and the ASEAN (0.4%).
In fact, China’s imports of iron ore, crude, coal, copper, and soybeans all rose in July from June, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.
Iron ore imports edged up 1.2% to 90.9 million tonnes in July from a year ago but up 21% from June. The July figure was the highest since January and up from 75.18 million tonnes in June which was the lowest since February 2016. For the seven months to July, imports totalled 590 million tonnes.
Imports of unwrought rose 16.7% year-on-year to 420,000 tonnes in July from a year ago but were up 29% from June. More interesting was the surge in imports of ores and concentrates (from miners like BHP, Rio, Oz Metals, Glencore Newcrest and Codelco).
In fact imports of copper ores and concentrates jumped 41% to 2.074 million tonnes in July, the highest on record. Now that will be an intriguing change in policy if sustained in coming months.
Also, arrivals of crude oil imports jumped a solid 14% to 41.04 million and totalled 286 million tonnes for the first seven months of the year.
Imports of soybeans rose 7.9% to the highest level in nearly a year of 8.64 million tonnes (the highest monthly figure for 11 months), as importers increased their purchases of Brazilian beans and dropped imports from the US. Imports of beans in the first seven months of the year totalled 46.9 million tonnes.
Coal imports jumped to 32.51 million tonnes and totalled 187 million tonnes for the January-July period.