China trade surplus hits record high but inports fall, AUD reacts sharply

China posted its biggest-ever trade-surplus on Tuesday, in renminbi terms, of Rmb376.2 in September, up from Rmb368bn in August and comfortably ahead of economists’ expectations of Rmb292.4bn.

However, the Chinese trade data rattled Asian markets, as sentiment toward a record trade surplus and slowing pace of decline for exports was offset by a bigger-than-expected fall in imports.

Imports fell 17.7 per cent in September from a year earlier, a bigger-than-forecast drop, and also larger than August’s 14.3 per cent fall. That isn’t particularly encouraging in the context of China’s goal to shift its growth model to being consumption-based, rather than export-driven.

The Australian dollar reacted sharply to the Chinese trade data. The currency had been declining through the morning, spiked briefly on the release, and resumed its decline, now leaving it down 0.8 per cent at US$0.7301.

At this point it looks unlikely the Australian dollar will close higher for a 10th consecutive session. With nine straight days of gains, the currency has already had one of its longest winning streaks since 1983, when it was floated.

Elsewhere, most Asian currencies retreated, despite only an incremental gain for the US dollar on Monday. The Japanese yen was the region’s best performer, 0.1 per cent stronger to Y119.89 per dollar. The weakest currencies this morning were the Malaysian ringgit and Indonesian rupiah, which were both down about 0.8 per cent.

Among other equities benchmarks, Japan’s Nikkei was down 0.9 per cent after a three-day weekend, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.3 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.9 per cent.

Oil prices had tumbled on Monday, with both Brent and West Texas Intermediate down more than 5 per cent. Both were recovering in Asia, with Brent up 1.2 per cent to $50.48 and WTI up 0.8 per cent to $47.49.

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