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China records March trade deficit of $880 mn
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) April 10, 2013

China inflation data, Iran lift oil prices
New York (AFP) April 9, 2013 - A subdued inflation report from China, Iran nuclear plans and a weaker dollar helped to lift oil prices Tuesday as the market awaited key US oil inventory data.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for May, closed at $94.20 a barrel, a gain of 84 cents from Monday.

Brent North Sea crude for delivery in May jumped $1.57 to settle at $106.23 a barrel in London trade.

WTI prices rose "after China reported inflation eased more than people expected," said Bart Melek of TD Securities.

The Chinese government said the country's consumer price index rose 2.1 percent in in March, well below the 10-month-high of 3.2 percent in February and below the 2.4 percent CPI reading forecast by analysts.

The slowdown in inflation eased investor concerns that Beijing would want to tighten monetary policy if inflation were heating up.

Traders also digested Iran's announcement of a new uranium production facility and two extraction mines only days after talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear program again ended in deadlock.

"Prices were buoyed by news that Iran was launching two new nuclear programs," said James Williams of WTRG Economics.

Robert Yawger of Mizuho Securities USA said the dollar's weakness and anticipation of the US oil inventories report had supported the market.

A softer greenback makes dollar-priced oil more attractive to buyers using stronger currencies.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Energy's weekly petroleum stockpiles report was expected to show another increase in crude oil supplies, to their highest level in 22 years, said Matt Smith of Schneider Electric.

According to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires, the DoE will report an increase of 1.2 million barrels of crude oil in the week ending April 5.

Gasoline stockpiles in the world's largest economy were estimated to have fallen by 1.5 million barrels, and distillates, including diesel and heating fuel, were projected to fall by 900,000 barrels.

China recorded a rare trade deficit in March as imports exceeded exports by $880 million, data showed Wednesday, as officials and analysts warned of lingering weakness in crucial overseas markets.

The surprise data come a day after Beijing released inflation figures that come in below forecast, which indicated the pick-up in the world's second biggest economy remained fragile.

China's custom's authority said Wednesday that imports rose 14.1 percent on-year to $183.07 billion, while exports climbed 10.0 percent to $182.19 billion.

The median forecast of 15 economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires was for a March surplus of $14.7 billion.

For the first quarter, China had a trade surplus of $43.07 billion, said the General Administration of Customs.

Spokesman Zheng Yuesheng said the country was still on track to meet its goal of an eight percent increase in trade this year, but said conditions in the rest of the world presented challenges.

"So far we can't see much sign of improvement in foreign market demand," he said. "We think it's rather unlikely for major developed markets to have a fundamental turnaround in their demand. The traction for global trade to increase is still weak."

China's gross domestic product (GDP) grew at its slowest pace in 13 years in 2012, expanding 7.8 percent as the United States endures a sluggish recovery from the global downturn, while Europe struggles with a long-running debt crisis.

An acceleration in the final three months of last year to 7.9 percent, which snapped seven straight quarters of slowing growth, had raised expectations among economists that China was on track to higher growth this year.

Authorities have set the 2013 growth target at 7.5 percent, the same as last year's.

However, Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists Lu Ting and Hu Weijun said in a report: "Overreaction is not justified."

They added that recent monthly trade surpluses were "abnormally high" and cautioned that "external demand will remain sluggish in coming months".

While shares in Shanghai slipped, traders did not seem overly concerned with the latest figures.

"The trade data (shows) that external demand still remains weak, which is widely-known to the market, so I think investors will pay more attention to indicators that reflect companies' business operations, profitability and revenue growth," Dongxing Securities analyst Sun Zheng told Dow Jones Newswires.

On Tuesday the consumer price index -- a main gauge of inflation -- rose 2.1 percent year-on-year last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said, down from 3.2 percent in February when prices spiked during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The reading was lower than the median forecast of 2.4 percent in a Dow Jones Newswires poll and IHS Global Insight said consumer spending remained sluggish, while growth was mainly driven by government spending.


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