China's exports grew far more strongly than expected in November while import growth weakened, official figures showed Sunday, fuelling the country's biggest trade surplus in nearly five years.
Exports increased 12.7 percent year-on-year to $202.2 billion, the General Administration of Customs said — compared with a forecast of seven percent in a poll of 11 economists by the Wall Street Journal.
Imports were up 5.3 percent year-on-year to $168.4 billion, with the monthly trade surplus expanding to $33.8 billion from $31.1 billion in October — the biggest since January 2009.
The November surplus was also considerably larger than the median forecast of $21.7 billion by the 11 economists.
The surprisingly strong exports data came after overseas shipments expanded 5.6 percent in October following a decline of 0.3 percent in September.
"China's November exports came in much higher than expected", ANZ bank economists Liu Li-Gang and Zhou Hao said in a report, citing "better demand from developed economies" like the United States and the European Union.
Exports to the United States rose 17.7 percent in November year-on-year, while shipments to the 28-member European Union gained 18.4 percent.
The growth in imports, however, came in at less than the forecast increase of seven percent and was also below October's 7.6 percent growth.
"Imports were disappointing," said HSBC economist Ma Xiaoping. "Domestic demand is still tepid."
The latest trade data came after China's economy snapped out of a first-half slump, with gross domestic product growth in the third quarter accelerating to 7.8 percent year-on-year after it slowed during the first two quarters.
Earlier this month official figures showed that China's manufacturing growth in November maintained a strong pace from the previous month to stay at a 19-month high.
The purchasing managers' index was at 51.4, unchanged from October, the National Bureau of Statistics said.
A reading above 50 signals expansion while a figure below indicates contraction.
In the first 11 months of the year, China's total trade, combining exports and imports, reached $3.8 trillion, up 7.7 percent from the same period last year, Customs said. The government's target for 2013 is eight percent.
"The data in January-November suggest that China could achieve the eight percent trade growth target for the whole year", Liu and Zhou said.
They cautioned, however, against over-optimism, stressing what they described as "inflated export growth in the first half of the year" when companies were caught over-invoicing, which instigated a crackdown by Chinese authorities on the practice.
HSBC's Ma said the November export data may suggest the problem has not been solved.
"The State Administration of Foreign Exchange issued strict regulations earlier in the year, but lately I hear that some new methods to evade the regulations are emerging," she said. "So maybe that's part of the reason for such high exports."
— Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this report