Patrick Chovanec on Seekingalpha asks the basic question on the direction Chinese policy makers will take regarding the currency question, but the underlying question remains unanswered…
What tipped this month’s figure from a marginal surplus to a deficit was a surge in imports, up 66% from last year. But it’s going to be important to drill down and take a closer look at exactly what’s making up those imports. If they are finished consumer goods, then it could be a sign of rising consumption in China and a shift towards more balanced trade. But if they consist mainly of raw materials, as many economists suspect, it could indicate that Chinese manufacturers are gearing up for a surge in exports later this year (a phenomenon compounded by rising commodity prices for inputs like iron ore and crude oil, in part due to rising Chinese demand).
The key question is, is this a trend or a cycle? Is it a trend towards higher domestic consumption and more balanced trade, or part of a production cycle that leads right back to where we started? I’m not convinced yet this is a trend.
That’s probably why even Chen Deming, China’s Minister of Commerce (who has been very vocal these past few weeks about the damage a stronger RMB could do to exporters) is being careful not to overplay the news, describing the March trade deficit as “a blip on the radar screen” that may soon be reversed..
The key thing to watch, regarding China’s willingness to strengthen the RMB, is the recovery of China’s exports. They’re up just over 20% from last year, but that’s just barely back to the level they were at before the global financial crisis struck.