China's trade surplus ballooned to its biggest in 45 months in October as export growth darted to a five-month high above 11 percent, surpassing expectations and adding to other data that suggest a less urgent need for new economic stimulus measures.
The figures provided further signs for the country's top policymakers meeting in Beijing to anoint new leaders for the coming decade that a long slide in economic growth may be over.
Still, the trade figures don't point to a swift recovery either. Analysts said exports may have been amplified by a weak year-earlier month and one-off orders from customers for Christmas.
China Commerce Minister Chen Deming was also wary about reading too much into the figures, saying on Saturday that while exports suggested the world's No. 2 economy is stabilising, global demand would remain anaemic next year.
I think the October export rebound is mainly due to the delivery of orders for Christmas season, said Wang Han, an analyst at Industrial Securities in Shanghai. I would stay cautious about the export outlook in the coming months as demand from the United States and European countries has not fully recovered.
China customs data showed exports climbed in October by 11.6 percent from a year earlier, the fastest pace since May and beating expectations for a 9 percent rise. Imports were more lethargic, growing 2.4 percent, in line with September but below forecasts for a 3.1 percent rise.
Reflecting the mixed picture, the data showed exports growth to the United States picked up in October from September. Exports to the European Union fell from a year earlier for the fifth month running but the slide was the smallest since June. Imports from Australia, China's biggest supplier of raw materials, fell 21.8 percent, the deepest fall since January 2009. The value of the imports was the lowest since February 2011.
Analysts said iron ore and coal purchases from Australia may have been dented by a week-long Chinese holiday in October, but the data underscored worries the trade outlook is uncertain at best.
Looking into November and December and considering the volatility in U.S. and European markets, as well as the recovery in domestic investment, we feel export growth will pull back, said Chen Hetian, an analyst at Rising Securities in Beijing.
Brisk export sales alongside flagging import shipments are both a political and economic problem for China.
Beijing wants domestic consumption to replace