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Container data highlights China trade slowdown

Author: Posttime:2012-08-14 12:12:56

The figures from the UK-based consultancy Container Trade Statistics shed shipping-specific light on the China trade data that appeared last week, which showed that while Chinese exports are still rising, the rate of growth has plunged.

China's exports in July were up 1% from a year earlier and the contrast with the 11.3% growth seen in June is readily apparent.

Meanwhile, imports rose 4.7% compared with 6.3% in June, which is a pointer to declining growth in domestic demand, with data on retail sales offering further confirmation on this point.

The performance was dramatically weaker than expected, marking the worst figures since November 2009, and was unveiled just a day after China reported that growth in industrial output fell to a three-year low in July.

According to Container Trade Statistics, the east China exported 1.48 million teu to Europe from January to June this year, compared to 1.44 million teu in the same period in 2011.

The figures for southern China are 940,000 teu for 2012 and 935,000 teu for 2011 and for northern China, 588,000 teu compared to 568,000 teu for the previous year.

But separate figures for the western Mediterranean highlight the very real impact of the eurozone crisis, with a fall from 104,000 teu in the first six months last year to 95,000 in the first six months of this year.

Container Trade Statistics managing director Rod Riseborough said: "There is obviously a major decline in the western Mediterranean and I would suspect it is closely aligned to the euro issue."

The situation has prompted speculation of further measures from Beijing to boost growth. The central bank has already cut key interest rates twice since the start of June and reduced reserve ratios in a bid to boost lending.

But for Shayne Heffernan, founder of Thailand-based Heffernan Capital Management, the Chinese government cannot properly be depicted as the master of its own fate.

"Everybody is expecting China stimulus but for me the real question is: even if that stimulus comes, what will it do? Exports to Europe and the US are slowing and everyone is of the opinion that Europe's problems are not solved."

Debt levels in Greece and Spain remain critical, Mr Heffernan believes, and there is a continued refusal to address the issues that created the underlying problems in the first place.

European businesses are not investing and consumers are not spending, and that can only have a detrimental impact on China's export efforts.

The risk of obvious moves such as relaxing credit or allowing currency depreciation is that this will simply generate internal inflation rather than have the desired effect, he said.

Another potential consequence is new unemployment and social unrest as the ruling Communist Party attempts to hand power over to a new generation of leaders.

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