BEIJING -- Chinese trade rebounded sharply in December, a sign that the world’s second largest economy was broadening its recovery.
Exports grew 14.1% from a year earlier, well above November’s 2.9% year-on-year growth, official data released Thursday showed.
The pickup was led by rising demand from Southeast Asia, the U.S. and Britain.
Meanwhile, imports accelerated 6% from a year earlier after recording no growth in November.
After slowing to its weakest pace of growth in three years, the Chinese economy began showing signs of improvement the final three months of 2012 on rising domestic investment.
December’s positive trade data may signal that conditions overseas could also be improving for China’s export sector, an employer of 200 million workers.
But a recovery is far from certain. Alistair Thornton, a Beijing-based economist for IHS Global Insight, said last month’s strong trade numbers may be skewed by short-term orders.
“With our projection for continued contraction in the Eurozone and continued slowdown in the U.S. economy, we believe China’s export sector will face another uphill battle this year -- an even tougher one than 2012,” Thornton said in a research note Thursday.
For the full year, China’s trade balance grew to $231.2 billion from $154.9 billion in 2011. China’s subdued property market significantly diminished imports of raw materials, helping create the huge surplus in exports.
Chinese exports grew 7.9% in 2012 and imports 4.3%, combining to miss the government’s annual trade target of 10%.
To be sure, the weak global economy in 2012 was not as damaging as during prior crises, Thornton said.
“Put in perspective with the four previous export downturns, 2012 looks to have done quite well,” he said. “Exports grew only 0.5% in 1998 after the Asian financial crisis, 6.8% after the U.S. tech bubble crash in 2001 and plunged over 16% in 2009" amid the global financial crisis.