Every month China's trade data are reported in both the renminbi and U.S. dollars by the National Bureau of Statistics. The renminbi report comes out first, followed about an hour later by the more closely-watched U.S. dollar report. Since the August 11 devaluation of the renminbi there is a wider discrepancy between the two sets of data and it has taken on added significance.
September imports, in renminbi terms, fell 17.7 percent from a year ago after dropping 14.3 percent in August. This is the 11th consecutive decline and the worst pace since May. But, exports fell just 1.1 percent, holding up much better than expected. This is third straight decline and points to some stabilization. As a result of weakening imports but improving exports, the trade surplus surged to a record high. The surplus was Rmb376 billion. That was almost 30 percent higher than the August surplus.
Low commodity prices, compounded by deteriorating domestic demand, are cutting the import bill. Exports have performed comparatively better but are also weak and are falling in year-on-year terms.
The trade surplus in U.S. dollar terms was $60.3 billion. On the year, exports were down a less than anticipated 3.7 percent while imports plunged 20.4 percent.
The merchandise trade balance is the difference in value between imported and exported goods. A positive number indicates that more goods were exported than imported. The data are released in yuan but are converted to U.S. dollar terms.
Changes in the level of imports and exports, along with the difference between the two (the trade balance) are a valuable gauge of economic trends here and abroad. While these trade figures can directly impact all financial markets, they also affect currency values in foreign exchange markets. However, the foreign exchange impact is muted here given that the currency is pegged to a basket of currencies and its value is determined daily by the government.
China's growth stems from its exports to the industrialized world. And in turn, global growth is dependent upon Chinese growth, especially since the financial woes of 2008.
Merchandise trade statistics are compiled and published by Customs General Administration (CGA) on a monthly basis. Preliminary estimates are available about 13 days after the reference month with details available within 25 days. Since 1980, the compilation of Customs statistics follows the concepts and definitions of the International Merchandise Trade Statistics: Concepts and Definitions. Data are released for total imports and exports in the Chinese currency and the U.S. dollar. There are five main categories each for primary and manufactured goods. Detailed information is available by category, destination country, foreign enterprises and domestic region to name a few. Geographically, the data covers the customs territory of the mainland China and excludes Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.