China's exports soar (yay!) but so do housing prices (groan!)

06/10/2010 9:57 am EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

So far yesterday’s China leakers are one for one.

Yesterday Reuters reported that according to three unnamed people a government official had told an investment conference that May consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 3.1%, exports jumped 50% in the month, and new loans totaled $92 billion. (For more on yesterday's leak see my post

Today, June 10, we’ve got the first official version of any of those numbers and the leakers are batting 1.000. Exports gained at an annual rate of 48.5% in May, according to China’s customs bureau. That’s awfully close to the leakers’ 50% and far above the 32% median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before the data release.

If you were worried about economic growth in China falling off a cliff, you can take a provisional deep sigh of relief on today’s export number.

But the news isn’t as good on the other worry front—the potential for an asset bubble.

Official numbers on housing prices for May show that the government’s efforts to rein in speculation in the real estate market haven’t gained much traction.  

Real-estate prices rose at an annual rate of 12.4% in May.

May’s 12.4% rate is the first decline in the annual rate of price increases in 11 months. But that’s not saying a whole lot. April’s 12.8% annual rate was an all-time record for government housing price data that goes back to 2005. And a drop to a 12.4% annual rate isn’t much of a decline considering the intensity of government efforts to slow prices that include lending restrictions and new limits on mortgages.

The export numbers don‘t guarantee that China is out of the woods on economic growth. The percentage gain in May 2010 was so high because exports in May 2009 were so depressed. And the results probably don’t fully reflect the slowdown in Europe’s economies as a result of the euro debt crisis.

 Economists are increasingly divided on their projections for China’s GDP growth in 2010. In the first quarter China’s economy grew at an 11.9% annual rate. Some economists are predicting that the full year will show only a modest drop from that rate with growth for 2010 coming in near 10%. Others are expecting growth in coming quarters to decelerate rapidly with growth for the full year coming in at 7.5% or so.

What’s that saying about financial markets hating uncertainty?
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