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China's trade surplus expands in September, but imports, exports miss estimates

China's foreign trade surplus expanded in September from the previous month, though both exports and imports saw worse-than-expected annual declines, data from the country's General Administration of Customs showed.

Exports fell 3.2% year over year in U.S. dollar terms to $218.12 billion in September, compared with the consensus estimate of economists polled by Econoday of a 3.0% decline. Imports dropped 8.5% over the same period to $178.47 billion, exceeding the consensus estimate of a 5.0% fall.

The weak data suggests that domestic demand may not have improved as much as indicated by manufacturing purchasing managers' index data in September, according to Martin Rasmussen, China economist at Capital Economics.

"Exports look set to remain subdued in the coming quarters as any prop from a weaker renminbi should be overshadowed by U.S. tariffs and a further slowdown in global growth," Rasmussen wrote in a note.

China's total foreign trade surplus reached $39.65 billion in September, up from $34.78 billion a month ago. The country's surplus with the U.S. reached $25.88 billion, with exports amounting to $36.47 billion and imports coming in at $10.59 billion.

In local-currency terms, Chinese exports slipped 0.7% year over year to 1.529 trillion yuan, while imports shed 6.2% to 1.254 trillion yuan. Month over month, Chinese exports rose 3.4% while imports gained 1.2% in September. China's trade surplus increased to 275.15 billion yuan in September from 239.26 billion yuan in the previous month.

Exports to the U.S. reached 255.54 billion yuan, while imports amounted to 74.44 billion yuan.

"China-U.S. economic and trade frictions have brought certain pressure on China's foreign trade," said Li Kuiwen, spokesperson for China customs, following the release of trade data.

In the first three quarters of 2019, China's trade surplus reached 2.046 trillion yuan as exports gained 5.2% year over year to 12.48 trillion yuan, while imports slipped 0.1% to 10.434 trillion yuan.

The U.S. and China last week reached a partial deal to pause elements of their ongoing trade war, delivering promised relief to a reeling U.S. agriculture sector and a delay to tariff increases slated to go into effect this week.

As of Oct. 11, US$1 was equivalent to 7.09 Chinese yuan.