Capital Economics sees positives in China's April trade data

China's exports slumped in April but one economist said the numbers were still the best set of trade figures from the country in a while.

China's exports fell by 1.8 percent in April, slipping back again after having surged 11.5 on-year in March. Imports, meanwhile, slumped 10.9 percent from a year ago. Economists polled by Reuters had expected April exports to fall 0.1 percent and tipped imports to contract 5 percent, following March's 7.6 percent decline.

But a statistical quirk could explain the unfavorable reading in exports compared to March, said Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics.

Evans-Pritchard said March's growth rate was magnified by the fact that the Lunar New Year holiday - which reduces trade - was in early February this year.

"The fall-back is not that surprising. If you actually compare the April trade figures with the average for the first quarter of the year, they're actually stronger than the average of last year," Evans-Pritchard told CNBC's "The Rundown."

According to his calculations, exports were down 9.6 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, while imports were down 13.4 percent on-year. In 2015, exports were down 2.9 percent while imports fell 14.3 percent. In comparison, April's 1.8 percent export drop and 10.9 percent fall in imports were favorable.

Evans-Pritchard also noted that the decline in imports reflected the current weakness in commodity prices. As prices nudge higher, imports should also start growing towards the end of the year.

Additionally, growth would be underpinned by stimulus measures already announced by policymakers, he said. Interest rate cuts as well as reductions in banks' reserve requirements have already bolstered credit growth and supported property prices.

That doesn't mean the economy is out of the woods, the economist cautioned. Once the impact of recent stimulus measures wore off, China's large debt overhang and sluggish productivity growth will pinch economic expansion, Evans-Pritchard said.

Other risks remained as well. A private survey of Chinese manufacturers and service providers showed a cooling in activity in April. Respondents to the manufacturing survey reported stagnant new orders, while new export work fell for the fifth month running. Companies shed staff amid muted client demand.

Evans-Pritchard said he expected China's economy to officially grow 6.8 percent in 2016 (growth was 6.9 percent in 2015), having grown 6.7 percent in the three months through March, although he said he did not believe the economy was actually growing at that level.

Evans-Pritchard uses his own measures, which pegged growth closer to 4.8 percent in the first quarter.

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