UPDATE 1-China's top ports handle more containers in Sept

(Adds details on Ningbo Port, analyst's comments)

SHANGHAI, Oct 10 (Reuters) - China's leading ports saw their container volumes rise strongly in September from a year earlier, offering first clues that overall trade in the world's second-largest economy may have picked up last month.

The rebound could bode well for China's trade figures in September, which will be released on Saturday. Economists polled by Reuters expect annual export growth to reach 5 percent in September, up from 2.7 percent in August, with imports returning to growth after contracting in August.

Shanghai Port, the world's busiest container port, saw its container volume rise 5.6 percent in September from a year earlier, bouncing from falls in the previous two months, data from the port operator showed.

Ningbo Port, China's third largest in terms of throughput, saw its container volume in September jump 20 percent from year ago, the port operator said on Monday. Container throughput rose around 6 percent in August.

Still, it is premature to say if the upswing in container handling signals a turnaround in the broader economy, as the week long National Holiday from October 1-7th would have prompted some shippers to rush their cargoes in to avoid congestion.

"I don't think this necessarily means that the broader economy is turning around. This shows that trade is expanding, but this may be due to factors such as government investment in transportation and other programs to influence demand," said Ma Xiaoping, an economist at HSBC.

"Higher consumption during the national holiday is also a factor. That's one aspect of it."

With the euro zone mired in a debt crisis and data from the U.S. showing a slower-than-expected recovery, investors are keenly awaiting data from China, which will unveil its GDP figures next week, for hints on how its economy is faring.

Economists polled by Reuters expect China's growth in the July-September quarter to have slowed to 7.4 percent, down from 7.6 percent in the second and would be the slowest expansion since the depths of the global financial crisis.

Container throughput at Shanghai reached 2.91 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), up from 2.61 million in August. The year-on-year increase for the month compared with a fall of 7.1 percent in August.

Cargo volumes rose 10 percent on the year to 44.41 million tonnes.

Ningbo Port's container throughput reached 1.59 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), versus 1.39 million TEUs in August.

(Reporting by Shanghai and Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Jason Subler and Anand Basu)

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