Beijing reports China economic data

China’s closely watched trade surplus with the U.S. fell to $27.3 billion in January, from $29.87 billion in December.

In January, China’s exports to the U.S. fell 2.4 percent from a year ago, while imports from its trade war opponent tanked 41.2 percent over the same period.

Despite the upbeat data, analysts say data from China in the first two months of the year must be treated with caution due to business distortions caused by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year public holiday, which fell in mid-February in 2018 but started on Feb. 4 this year.

Mixo Das, Asia equity strategist at J.P. Morgan, said he would not read too much into a single data point, especially with the presence of such distortions like the national holidays, cyclical trends and ongoing structural changes.

Das told CNBC he still expected China’s economy to bottom in the first half of the year.

“Even if the latest recovery in trade is genuine, the outlook for this year is still downbeat,” concurred Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China Economist at Capital Economics.

That is due to an expected slowing in global growth that would hit Chinese exports, as well as cooling demand at home, Evans-Pritchard wrote in a note Thursday.

In fact, seasonally adjust trade data will show that even though exports and imports both did better than expected in January, they still remained weaker than a few months ago, he added.

“For now, then, the broad trend in shipments still appears to be pointing down,” Evans-Pritchard said.

Thursday’s data release comes as American and Chinese trade negotiators began a new round of talks in Beijing this week as the world’s two largest economies renewed efforts to reach a deal.

Officials from both countries are trying to reach a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to increase to 25 percent from 10 percent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported.

—CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Reuters contributed to this report.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that China on Thursday reported exports and imports data for January that easily topped expectations.

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