Workers packaging frozen steak for export at a beef processing plant in Shandong province on Sunday. Chinese firms shipped US$268 billion (S$359 billion) in goods in November, the most for any single month and more than 21 per cent higher than the sa

BEIJING • China’s exports jumped last month by the most since early 2018, pushing its trade surplus to a monthly record high and underlining how global demand for pandemic-related goods is supporting a growth rebound in the world’s second-largest economy.

Chinese firms shipped US$268 billion (S$359 billion) in goods in November, the most for any single month and over 21 per cent higher than the same month last year.

Import growth eased to 4.5 per cent, leaving a trade surplus of US$75.4 billion – the largest on record in data going back to 1990.

“The export boom is one of the biggest economic surprises this year regarding China’s outlook”, with the country benefiting from effective containment of the virus and strong Christmas orders, said Mr Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank in Singapore.

Strengthened by the seasonal surge ahead of the year-end holidays, the figures illustrate how the pandemic has complemented China’s manufacturing strengths, as consumers worldwide reduced spending on services due to coronavirus closures.

Combined with a pickup in China’s domestic consumption and investment, they also suggest the country’s economic rebound remained on track last month.

“Importers from various locations outside China worried that their locations would be under lockdown during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and therefore requested urgent deliveries from China’s factories,” said Dr Iris Pang, Greater China chief economist at ING in Hong Kong.

Global demand had started recovering before a virus resurgence in some of China’s biggest export markets – a development that could further fuel demand for Chinese-made personal protective gear and work-from-home devices.

Exports of medical equipment in the January-November period jumped 42.5 per cent in dollar terms from a year ago, while shipments of electronics last month were up 25 per cent from the same month last year.

“Demand for pandemic-related and electronics goods was pretty much unaffected by the newly imposed social distancing measures, which affect services more than goods trade,” said Ms Michelle Lam, Greater China economist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong.

Bloomberg economists said: “Looking ahead, outbound shipments may slow in December due to a higher year-earlier base. But we expect a strong rebound in the pace of increases in 1Q 2021, given the low base in 1Q 2020, when the coronavirus slammed China’s economic activity.”