China's trade surplus in US dollar terms widened from $38.05 billion in April to $40.81 billion in May, falling short of the consensus forecast of $46.1 billion. Both exports and imports increased above expectations, but imports did so to a greater extent. Year-on-year growth in exports picked up from 8.0 percent in April to 8.7 percent in May, above the consensus forecast of 7.0 percent, while year-on-year growth in imports rose from 11.9 percent to 14.8 percent, well above the consensus forecast of 9.0 percent.
The pick-up in year-on-year growth in China's exports in May relative to April was largely driven by stronger demand from the European Union. Exports to the EU rose 9.7 percent on the year in may, up from 4.0 percent in April. Exports to the United States grew 11.7 percent on the year in May, unchanged from the growth seen in April, while year-on-year growth in exports to Japan weakened from 13.3 percent to 3.7 percent.
In seasonally adjusted terms, Chinese exports fell 0.3 percent on the month in May after an increase of 7.8 percent in April. Seasonally adjusted imports fell 3.3 percent on the month, partly reversing the increase of 7.5 percent in April.
Looking at year-to-date data, for the five months to May 2017 China has recorded a trade surplus of $143.8 billion, around a third lower than the surplus of $217.5 billion recorded in the equivalent period in 2016. This smaller year-to-date surplus largely reflects the impact of higher global oil prices on Chinese imports. The value of these imports is around $113 billion higher so far this year than in the equivalent period in 2016, whereas the value of China's exports is up only around $36 billion.
In domestic currency terms, China's trade surplus increased from CNY262.1 billion in April to CNY281.6 billion in May. Exports grew 15.5 percent on the year in yuan terms in May, up from 14.3 percent in April, while year-on-year growth in imports in yuan terms accelerated from 18.6 percent to 22.1 percent.