What can we tell about the state of demand, and of the overall state of the Chinese economy, from the latest import numbers?

Looking at Q4 2014 versus Q4 2013:

  • The value of iron ore imports, used to make steel used largely in housing, cars and white goods, fell 34% to only US$18 billion! Due to a decline in prices though, this still means that volume rose 6% – so growth, albeit slow growth. A slightly more positive message than earlier in the year.
  • A similar story for oil. The value of oil imports fell 9% to US$50 billion, volumes rose 13%. I’m not able to separate how much of this went to stock piles, unfortunately.
  • And in agriculture, a mixed picture: import of nuts rose nearly 40% in value and volume as Chinese consumers went crazy for various nuts. Soybean imports fell 9% to only US$9 billion in the quarter.
  • Machine tool imports rose 15%, a good sign for future industrial output.
  • Automotive is concerning. The value of imports rose by almost a third in the first three quarters of the year, but only by 5% in the fourth quarter. This still represents US$15 billion of imports (at a value of roughly US$42,000 per vehicle). Maybe imports overshot in the first three quarters. Otherwise we see here signs of China’s larger spenders really pulling back.

Pay close attention to what China is buying in 2015. Look to what it can say about consumer confidence

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Image credit: Simon Cunningham / Flickr