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RIYADH: China’s exports and imports returned to growth in April after contracting in the previous month, signaling an encouraging improvement in demand at home and overseas.

The data suggests a flurry of policy support measures over the past several months may be helping to stabilize fragile investor and consumer confidence.

Shipments from China grew 1.5 percent year on year last month by value, customs data showed on Thursday, in line with the increase forecast in a Reuters poll of economists. They fell 7.5 percent in March, which marked the first contraction since November.

Imports for April increased 8.4 percent, beating an expected 4.8 percent rise and reversing a 1.9 percent fall in March.

“Export values returned to growth from contraction last month, but this was mainly due to a lower base for comparison,” said Huang Zichun, China economist at Capital Economics.

“After accounting for changes in export prices and for seasonality, we estimate that export volumes remained broadly unchanged from March,” she added.

In Q1, both imports and exports rose 1.5 percent year on year, buoyed by better-than-expected trade data over the January-February period. But the weak March figures prompted concerns that momentum could be faltering again.

Crude oil imports

China’s crude oil imports rose on the previous year in April, as refiners prepared for a fully recovered Labor Day holiday travel season, official data showed on Thursday.

Crude imports in April totaled 44.72 million tonnes, or about 10.88 million barrels per day, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.

That represented a 5.45 percent increase from the relatively low 10.4 million bpd imported in April 2023.

China saw more than 1.3 billion passenger trips over the five day Labor Day holiday that began on May 1, up 2.1 percent from a year earlier, state media outlet Xinhua reported.

Highway traffic was up 2.1 percent while air trips surged 8.1 percent, Xinhua said.

Domestic airline seat capacity in April was up 1.3 percent on last year, data from consultancy OAG showed.

China’s manufacturing sector continued to see muted recovery in April.

Natural gas imports for April rose 14.7 percent from a year earlier to 10.30 million tonnes, data showed.

Prices of liquefied natural gas for Asia at the end of April were down 11.3 percent on the same period last year, and down 43 percent from last year’s peak in October.

Customs data also showed exports of refined oil products, which include diesel, gasoline, aviation fuel and marine fuel, were up 21.46 percent from a year earlier at 4.55 million tonnes.

Coal imports

China’s coal imports rose in April fueled by lower domestic production and greater buying by power generators to swell stockpiles ahead of the peak summer demand season.

Shipments of coal into the world’s largest consumer of the fuel were 45.25 million tonnes last month, up 11 percent from 40.68 million a year earlier.

That was up by 9.4 percent from March and 2 million tonnes less than December’s record of 47.3 million tonnes.

The boost in imports is partly because domestic coal production has not increased to meet demand, said Feng Dongbin, an analyst with consulting firm Fenwei.

China’s coal output fell 4 percent on the year during the first quarter, the most recent data shows, in part because of a string of deadly accidents that forced mines in the top coal-producing province of Shanxi to halt operations for safety inspections.

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