China's Surplus Leaps as July Exports Hit New High

July's surplus is $31.85 billion.

China's trade surplus expanded to $31.48 billion in July as exports rose by a fifth to hit a new record high, the customs agency said on August 10.

The trade surplus -- a major point of tension for China's key trade partners, the United States and Europe -- was well in excess of June's $22.27 billion.

Analysts said the figures, which also outstripped a Dow Jones forecast of $26 billion based on a poll of economists, would add further pressure on Beijing to allow the yuan to appreciate. China's major trading partners have long complained that the yuan is deliberately undervalued to give Chinese exporters an unfair advantage.

"The expansion of Chinas structural surplus will certainly add more pressure for RMB appreciation," said Alistair Thornton, a Beijing-based China analyst at IHS Global Insight. "Both a weakening dollar and a softening inflation outlook in China will allow authorities to step up the pace of nominal appreciation against the dollar."

Exports were up 20.4% year on year to $175.13 billion -- a fresh monthly record -- while imports rose by 22.9%, the customs agency said.

Thornton said July's export rebound was partly due to seasonal factors, and reflected demand for Christmas-season orders overseas. "Given that most orders for the next few months have already been placed, it is unlikely that the drastic downward shift in global sentiment will have too big an impact on exports through the short run," he said.

"Nonetheless... the recent market turmoil will certainly feed into the data towards the end of the year."

The surge in exports came despite manufacturing activity in China contracting for the first time in a year in July due to Beijing's efforts to slow the economy and weakening overseas demand, according to HSBC data.

However, some experts said consumer confidence in the United States and Europe were likely to hit China's exports in the coming months.

"The data is slightly above expectations with the wider trade surplus," said Tang Yunfei, Beijing-based economist with Founder Securities. "But given the situation in the U.S .and euro zone, consumer confidence there is likely to slide in coming months and negatively impact the exports.

"However, if China takes effective countermeasures such as more pro-growth policies, maybe it will drive the recovery of confidence globally."

China's trade surpluses have allowed it to accumulate around $3.2 trillion-worth of foreign exchange reserves, nearly $1.2 trillion of which are in U.S .Treasury bonds.

On August 9 China's Premier Wen Jiabao called on countries hit by the debt crisis to adopt "concrete and responsible fiscal and monetary policies," reflecting China's unease over the damage a global downturn could do to its export-dependent economy.

China's central bank on August 10 set the yuan central parity rate -- the midpoint of the currency's allowed trading band -- at 6.4167 to the dollar, its lowest on record, according to Dow Jones Newswires. It represented an appreciation of 6.4% since June last year when the central bank removed a peg introduced during the financial crisis.

Beijing has in recent days allowed the yuan to strengthen at a faster rate than expected, indicating the government's intention to use exchange rate to combat inflation at a time when the scope for further tightening is narrowed.

China's consumer inflation hit a three-year high of 6.5% last month, driven by soaring food prices, fanning official concerns of potential social unrest it may trigger.

The government has restricted the amount of money banks can lend on numerous occasions and hiked interest rates five times since October. But analysts said Beijing would now put on hold any more tightening measures due to the uncertain global outlook. "The policy is now pretty much on a wait-and-see stance," said Zhang Zhiwei, an economist with Nomura International in Hong Kong.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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