China's trade surplus shrinks to nine-month low

Image caption, China's export strength has turned it into the world's second-biggest economy

China's trade surplus has fallen to a nine-month low due to strong imports, according to official data.

The surplus was $6.5bn (£4bn) in January, compared with $13.1bn in December. Analysts had expected a figure closer to $12bn.

The trade surplus is a source of concern because critics, such as the US, accuse China of manipulating its currency to boost exports.

Analysts say it is too early to decide if the surplus is on a downward trend.

Also on Monday, figures out of Japan confirmed that China had become the world's second-largest economy.

Driving its ascent up the global economic league table has been a manufacturing and export boom.

Skewed data?

In an effort to cut its surplus and reduce its dependence on exports, the Chinese government has been trying to boost domestic demand and better balance its trade with other countries.

Monday's figures seem to indicate that domestic consumption is on the rise.

Chinese exports grew 38% in January from the year before, while imports rose 51%, the Customs Bureau said in its latest report.

But some analysts warn that the trade numbers may have been skewed because of the Chinese New Year holiday that took place at the start of February.

Yu Song, an economist at Goldman Sachs, said that the holiday had probably limited the amount of exports leaving China.

"Unlike many other indicators, the Lunar New Year affects data until March as many exporters return to their home regions and do not resume full production for several weeks," the economist said.