With the coronavirus outbreak in China seemingly under control, everyone is watching the world's second-largest economy for signs of life after lockdown.
Companies are getting back to work, more and more people are out shopping, there was a record expansion in bank lending in March, and exports and imports weren't as bad as expected, according to data on Tuesday. However, it's too early to uncork the champagne yet, with data due Friday expected to show that the economy had a historic contraction in the first quarter.
China's government enforced a strict lockdown of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, from Jan. 23 to April 8. Whether the economy is out of the woods and can drive global growth like it did after the global financial crisis remains to be seen. And even if the domestic economy looks to be improving in April, the real hit to foreign demand hasn't really materialized yet.
"Exports did better than people thought as most exporters only saw orders cancelled since the middle of the month," said Zhou Xue, an economist at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong. "The expected plunge in exports was not fully reflected in the data and the second quarter could be much worse."
Some Asian nations or regions have done better in containing the virus outbreak than the US or Europe have, and China's exports to those nations were stronger. Shipments to South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan rose, while those to Japan only fell 1.4%. But much of that trade is of electronic components for goods which are exported elsewhere, so the shutdowns, job losses and social distancing in other parts of the world will likely affect that in the future.
Trade with Europe and the US was hit much harder, with exports to the European Union down more than 24%, and those to the US falling almost 21% from a year ago. With companies there canceling export orders from early March, the declines will be even worse in April, according to Iris Pang, an economist at ING NV in Hong Kong.
Charting the Trade Turmoil
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg.com, and is published by special syndication arrangement.