China Reports Weak September Imports

By Joe McDonald, AP Business Writer

BEIJING -- China's import growth recovered slightly in September but was weak, suggesting that a recovery for the world's second-largest economy from a painful slump has yet to take hold.

Imports rose 2.4%, an improvement over August's unexpected 2.6% contraction but well below the government's 10% target for overall trade growth this year, customs data showed Saturday. Exports rose by a relatively robust 9.9% despite economic problems in Europe and the U.S.

The data add to indications that Chinese industrial activity is still weak despite two interest rate cuts since the start of June and higher spending on building airports and other public works. Officials including President Hu Jintao have warned growth that fell to a three-year low of 7.6% in the quarter ending in June might decline further before recovering.

Forecasters expect a slight decline in economic growth to about 7.3% when figures for the latest quarter are reported next week.

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The World Bank cut its growth forecast for China this year to 7.7% from its May outlook of 8.2%. That is far stronger than the U.S. and Japan, where growth is forecast in low single digits, but painful for Chinese companies that rely on a rapid expansion to drive demand for new factories and office buildings.

The World Bank said China faces the risk of an even deeper downturn if conditions in its key export markets worsen.

Chinese factory output in August fell to a three-year low. Manufacturing improved in September but still was contracting. September auto sales shrank by 0.3%, extending a steady decline from double-digit growth levels earlier this year.

The slowdown is due largely to government curbs imposed to cool an overheated economy and try to make China more efficient and resilient by reducing reliance on imports and investment and promoting domestic consumption and technology-based industries.

That has hurt construction and heavy industry such as steel and cement producers, sharply reducing China's demand for imported iron ore, copper and other raw materials. That is a blow to commodity exporters such as Australia, Brazil and some African nations where voracious Chinese demand for imports has driven an economic boom.

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