BEIJING (Reuters) - China's February trade performance was far worse than economists had expected, with exports tumbling the most in over six years, days after top leaders sought to reassure investors that the outlook for the world's second-largest economy remains solid.
Exports fell 25.4 percent from a year earlier, twice as much as markets had feared as demand skidded in all of China's major markets, while imports slumped 13.8 percent, the 16th straight month of decline.
The export drop was the biggest since May 2009, but economists said it may not necessarily point to a significant worsening in economic conditions due to sharply reduced business activity during the long Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in early February this year.
Still, January-February exports on a combined basis, which should iron out some of the holiday effect, fell 17.8 percent and imports 16.7 percent, pointing to persistently weak demand at home and abroad that is weighing on the economy of the world's largest trading nation.
"Exports were very strong last year in February because the Lunar New Year started so late and much of the usual disruption from the holiday was pushed into March. So the implication is that we'll probably see a significant reversal and a stronger number next month," said Julian Evans-Prichard, China Economist at Capital Economics in Singapore.
"We suspect that overall exports remain weak but we don’t see much evidence of marked deterioration, for instance there was no sudden drop-off in export orders in the Markit PMI (activity survey), and they generally do a pretty good job of adjusting for seasonality."
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected February exports to fall by 12.5 percent, with imports seen down 10.0 percent.
China posted a trade surplus of $32.59 billion for the month, down from $63.29 billion in January, the General Administration of Customs said on Tuesday.