The one point to be made about China’s latest trade figures is that demand from developed economies has not collapsed, regardless of the fact that last year’s trade surplus, at $155 billion, was down from 2010’s $183 billion and the smallest since 2005. Year-on-year export growth in December was 13.4%, and even 7.2% from debt-struck Europe. Slowing growth rates, to be sure–November’s export growth was 13.8% y-o-y–but not contracting ones.
December’s increase in the monthly surplus from $14.5 billion to $16.5 billion was largely due to slower import growth, at 11.8% y-o-y, a 26-month low. Commodity imports were resilient. It was domestic consumers who kept their wallets shut, another reason for the recent priming of the credit pumps. The trade figures also provide inconclusive support to visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary arguments that Beijing needs to let its currency appreciate further against the dollar.