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[BEIJING] Chinese exports fell again in August, official data showed on Tuesday, but the drop was less than forecast and an improvement from the previous month, as investors worry about weakness in the world's second-largest economy.
The figures come as a growth slowdown in the Asian giant and planet's biggest trader in goods has sent panic through global markets while Beijing tries to rebalance the economy to a sustainable model where expansion is predominantly driven by domestic consumer demand.
But the transition is not proving easy, a situation exacerbated by weak demand in some of China's major markets.
Exports fell 5.5 per cent year-on-year to US$196.9 billion in August, Customs said on its website.
The drop was significantly less than the median forecast of a 6.6 per cent decline in a survey of economists by Bloomberg News, and also an improvement from July's 8.3 per cent fall.
"Exports to the US and the Association of South-East Asian Nations continued to grow but shipments to the EU and Japan declined," Customs said in a statement on its website.
Imports fell 13.8 per cent year-on-year to US$136.6 billion, Customs said, attributing the decline to widespread commodity price falls.
It was the 10th consecutive monthly fall in import values, and worse than the Bloomberg survey's projection of a 7.9 per cent decline.
But Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said the outlook was "brighter than many believe".
"The deeper contractions in headline trade growth will undoubtedly be viewed by some as further evidence of a deteriorating economic outlook for China," he said in a reaction.
"But we think the apparent weakness is misleading," he added, citing a high comparative base from last year for exports and commodity price deflation weighing on imports.
"Trade growth ought to recover over the coming quarters," he said.
Global stock markets have been roiled by worries over slowing growth in China, whose own exchanges have plummeted as a debt-fuelled bubble burst.
Shanghai stocks were down 1.38 per cent at the break on Tuesday, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropping 42.37 points to 3,038.05.
The trade surplus was US$60.2 billion last month, Customs said, without giving the change in dollar terms. But it earlier said that measured in China's yuan currency the surplus had risen 20.1 per cent.