The dollar value of China’s exports grew faster than expected in March as import growth moderated from a February spike, restoring a trade surplus after the previous month saw the first deficit since early 2014.

Exports grew 16.4 per cent year on year in dollar terms in March, according China’s General Administration of Customs. That was well above a median estimate predicting a rise of 4.3 per cent from economists surveyed by Bloomberg and appeared to represent a robust recovery from February’s fall of 1.3 per cent in outbound shipments.

Imports meanwhile rose 20.3 per cent year-on-year in dollar terms, a far cry from February’s 38.1 per cent but still visibly higher than a median forecast of 15.5 per cent growth.

Those flows produced a trade surplus of $23.9bn after February saw the first deficit in three years, coming close to double a forecast calling for a surplus of $12.5bn.

The renminbi weakened 0.3 per cent against the greenback over the course of March to Rmb6.8872 per dollar, and the impact of that softening was evident from renminbi-denominated growth figures, which saw exports up 22 per cent and imports up 26.3 per cent from a year earlier. That added up to a surplus of Rmb164.3bn for the month, according to customs.

While monthly trade figures for January and February tend to be relatively erratic due to the influence of the long lunar new year holiday, the March data are typically viewed as more reliable indicators of the health of China’s trade flows.

Quarterly trade flows in renminbi terms were released earlier in the morning without explanation, showing a 31.1 per cent rise in imports and a 14.8 per cent rise in exports for the period.

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