China's trade surplus rose to $51.35 billion in January from $40.82 billion in December, above the consensus forecast of $48.4 billion. In January 2016 China recorded a trade surplus of $63.3 billion.
Exports rose 7.9 percent year-on-year in January, well above the consensus forecast for an increase of 0.5 percent, and up from a decline of 6.1 percent in December. In seasonally adjusted terms, exports fell 8.4 percent month-on-month in January and rose 8.1 percent year-on-year.
The stronger headline growth in exports was broad-based across major trading partners. China's exports to the United States rose 6.2 percent on the year in January, after increasing by 5.1 percent in December. Exports to the European Union also strengthened in year-on-year terms, up 2.9 percent in January after falling by 4.8 percent in December. Similarly, exports to Japan rebounded from a fall of 5.6 percent on the year in December to an increase of 9.2 percent in January.
Meanwhile, China's imports grew by 16.7 percent on the year in January, again above the consensus forecast of 9.6 percent. and up from an increase of 3.1 percent in December. In seasonally adjusted terms, imports fell 11.5 percent month-on-month and rose 17.6 percent year-on-year.
In local currency terms, China's trade surplus rose from Y275 billion in December to Y355 billion in January. Exports rose 15.9 percent on the year, while imports rose 25.2 percent on the year.
Growth rates, both month-on-month and year-on-year, for Chinese data early each calendar year are impacted by the timing of public holidays for the lunar new year. This year these holidays occurred in January, whereas in 2016 they occurred in February. This means that, compared with 2016, there are fewer working days in January and more working days in February in 2017.
All else being equal, this suggests that year-on-year changes in some measures of economic activity, including exports and imports, may be distorted by the timing of these holidays, even after attempts are made to adjust the data for seasonal patterns. A clearer picture of underlying trade performance will be possible once February data are published, as this will allow year-to-date growth rates for the first two months of the year to be calculated.