Confiscated sharing bicycles of different brands are seen at a parking lot of Huangpu District Vehicle Management Company in Shanghai, China, March 1, 2017.
Photograph by China Stringer Network—Reuters
By Scott Cendrowski
March 8, 2017

You’ll need to come back in April if you want get a real read on China’s trade data, but so far the start to 2017 is looking good.

Officials said today in February exports grew 4.2% year-over-year, after jumping almost 16% in January; meanwhile imports leaped 44.7% last month, after screaming up 25% during the first month of the year. Both months taken together look like a very encouraging sign of the Chinese economy’s strength.

But the problem with relying on the country’s early year data is that China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, which basically shuts down business for two weeks, always disrupts the period and always falls on different dates. Factories, ports and the rest of industry slow down and ramp up business at different times each year, making year-to-year comparisons untrustworthy.

One solution is to combine exports and imports for both January and February, which should iron out fluctuations based on the date shifting. Based on this method, researcher Capital Economics says exports are up 11% this year after flatlining in the fourth quarter of last year. Imports, too, are up 34% this year, quadruple the growth in last year’s fourth quarter.

After the central bank said yesterday foreign reserves unexpectedly rose by $7 billion in February (which Goldman Sachs analysts said meant $19 billion, after adjusting for currency changes) to $3 trillion, the new year is looking up in China.

But watchers will have to wait until next month before they can really trust if trade data is part of the trend.

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