LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — China swung to a trade deficit of $880 million in March, the General Administration of Customs reported Wednesday, as imports surged 14.1% from a year earlier.
The deficit, which followed February’s $15.3 billion surplus, missed a forecast for a surplus of $14.7 billion from a Dow Jones Newswires survey and a $15.2 billion projected surplus tipped by Bloomberg News.
The gain in imports, which fell more than 15% in February, exceeded a 6.1% growth forecast from Dow Jones Newswires and a 5.2% estimate from a Reuters survey.
Exports rose 10% from March 2012, less than Dow Jones’ expected increase of 12% and well below an almost 22% rise in February.
“Whilst total export growth of 10% year-on-year in March is far more reasonable a number than in January and February, the breakdown of exports by destination veers towards the absurd,” wrote IHS economists Xianfang Ren and Alistair Thornton.
They cited the data’s 93% surge in exports to Hong Kong, coupled by a 14% drop in Europe-bound shipments and a 7% fall in those to the U.S.
“Given a lot of exports to Hong Kong are actually re-exported to the E.U. and U.S. as final destinations, this seems a little incongruous, to say the least,” they wrote.
They offered “guesses” as to reasons behind the alleged inaccuracies, including capital inflows disguised as exports, fake orders meant to secure government export-tax rebates, and political pressure to goose the data.