Calculated in yuan, China’s exports rose a tepid year-over-year 0.6% in December. Unfortunately, China’s export companies don’t pay for raw materials such as oil and copper or for subassemblies from Malaysia or Indonesia in yuan but in most cases in U.S. dollars.
And thanks to the 6.5% drop in the yuan against the dollar in 2016 and the 6% decline in the yuan against a benchmark basket of currencies, China’s dollar denominated exports fell 6.1% in December.
Imports on the other hand, climbed 3.1%. That reduced China’s trade surplus to $40.8 billion. Which would be a great figure for most of the world’s economies but isn’t for China. In 2016 China’s trade surplus dropped to $512.29, the first decline since 2011. Despite a cheaper yuan, China continues to lose market share to Southeast Asian economies because of rising labor prices in China at the labor intensive end of the manufacturing spectrum.
And remember 2016 was a good year–in terms of the geopolitical climate. 2017 brings worries over Brexit, elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, and, of course, the possibility that incoming U.S. President Donald Trump will start a trade war somewhere in the world and most plausibly with China.