China Posts Surprise Trade Surplus In March

China unexpectedly posted a trade surplus in March, as import growth slowed significantly despite government's efforts to shift towards domestic consumption-led economic growth.

The latest figures from the General Administration of Customs showed Tuesday that trade balance was in a surplus of $5.35 billion in March compared to a $3.15 billion deficit expected by economists.

In February, the balance was in a deficit of $31.48 billion, the first shortfall in a year and the highest since 1989.

During March, exports surged 8.9 percent year-on-year, faster than the expected 7 percent growth. This was nonetheless, weaker than the 18.4 percent annual growth reported for February.

At the same time, imports rose 5.3 percent, weaker than the 9 percent expansion forecast by economists. This was sharply slower than February's 39.6 percent expansion.

The Chinese economy expanded 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the slowest pace in more than two years as a result of sluggish external demand. The economy would have expanded 8.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012, Zhang Xiaoqiang, a senior official with the National Development and Reform Commission said last week.

The National Bureau of Statistics is slated to release the first quarter GDP figures on Friday and economists forecast an 8.4 percent growth for the period.

The latest purchasing managers' survey results for the manufacturing sector indicated a possible slowdown in economic growth during the first three months of this year. According to the survey, China's manufacturing sector shrank for a fifth consecutive month in March, amid a combination of sluggish export new orders and softening domestic demand.

In its latest policy easing move, the People's Bank of China cut the reserve requirement rate for all commercial banks by 50 basis points for the second time in three months in February to boost lending amid sluggish economic growth.

Despite softening economic activity, the central bank refrained from an interest rate reduction this year due to persistent inflationary pressures. According to official data released yesterday, inflation rebounded to 3.6 percent in March from a 20-month low of 3.2 percent in February, dimming the prospects of further monetary easing.

China now targets 7.5 percent economic growth this year, lower than the previous target of 8 percent. The economy expanded 9.2 percent in 2011 and 10.4 percent in 2010. (Provided by RTTNews)

Gas Creeps Up Near $4 A Gallon Nationally

Gas prices have reached $3.97 per gallon, according to a new survey, although prices showed the smallest increase since January

Lundberg Survey Inc. found that gas prices have edged up by 3.74 cents since a previous survey on March 23th, a relatively small increase compared to recent figures. The California-based company surveyed about 2,500 gas stations.

The highest gas prices among cities surveyed were in Chicago, where the average was $4.45 a gallon. The lowest price was found in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where customers paid an average of $3.66 a gallon.

Discussing the relatively modest increase, survey editor Trilby Lundberg told CNN, "The two reasons are the continued flush supply of gasoline and the fact that, in this two-week period, crude oil prices fell."

Crude oil is the main driver of whatever gasoline prices do," she added. "If crude oil stays more or less where it is now, the price hikes will cease. If it goes back up again, we will resume climbing."

In the last two weeks, crude oil prices fell $3.56, from $106.87 a barrel on March 23rd to $103.31 a barrel on April 5th, Lundberg said.

Increasing gas prices have become a key issue in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. President Barack Obama said his administration is monitoring prices in 360 U.S. cities for fraud or price manipulation.

Congress is also reviewing the situation of high gas prices. On March 29th, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill to repeal about $24 billion in tax breaks to oil companies. Republicans have proposed legislation to deal with the issue by examining environmental regulations. (Provided by RTTNews)