A cargo ship carrying containers is seen near the Yantian port in Shenzhen, following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Guangdong province, China May 17, 2020.
Martin Pollard | Reuters
BEIJING — China’s exports fell in May for the first time since February, customs data showed Wednesday.
Exports fell 7.5% year-on-year to $283.5 billion, far worse than the 0.4% decline predicted by a Reuters poll.
The decline was so sharp that export volumes came in below their levels at the start of the year, after accounting for seasonality and changes in export prices, Julian Evans-Pritchard, head of China Economics at Capital Economics, said in a note.
“This points to subdued global demand for Chinese goods,” he said.
In April, China’s exports beat expectations slightly with 8.5% year-on-year growth.
However, the disappointing export figures for May indicate that the longer-term trend is down, said Hao Hong, chief economist at Grow Investment Group.
China won’t be able depend on trade to boost its economy for “another six months, for sure,” he said, noting a drag from lackluster U.S. demand, where inflation — and interest rates — remain high.
Imports for May dropped by 4.5% from a year ago to $217.69 billion — less than the 8% plunge forecast by Reuters.
China’s monthly imports have declined on a year-on-year basis since late last year.
Other analysis of the data showed signs of recovery in domestic demand.
Capital Economics’ Evans-Pritchard estimated that import volumes for May reached an 18-month high, after accounting for a lower comparison base and price changes.
He expects imports “will continue to recover over the coming quarters as the boost from reopening continues to feed through.”
A breakdown of China’s trade for May by country or category in U.S. dollars wasn’t immediately available.
China is set to release inflation data on Friday.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.
— CNBC’s Jihye Lee contributed to this report.