The jump in exports helped China to record a surprise trade surplus of $15.3 billion in February though the surplus narrowed from $29.2 billion in January, the General Administration of Customs said in a statement.
The market had expected a trade deficit of $16 billion, according to the median forecast in a poll of 13 economists by Dow Jones Newswires.
Exports jumped 21.8 percent year-on-year to $139.4 billion in February, while imports dropped 15.2 percent to $124.1 billion, customs said.
Analysts said the strong growth in exports was a good sign for the economy, but suggested the weakness in imports may have been due to factories shutting down for the week-long holiday, reducing demand for raw materials and components.
“The import data may have been affected by the seasonal factor of the Lunar New Year, but exports were not affected at all, growing faster-than-expected,” Liu Ligang, a Hong Kong-based economist for bank ANZ, told AFP.
“China will undoubtedly remain on a recovery track this year, with its economy likely growing more than eight percent,” he said.
Investors are looking to gauge the strength of China’s economic rebound after the economy grew an annual 7.8 percent in 2012, its worst performance for 13 years, in the face of weakness at home and in key overseas markets.
On Tuesday at the opening session of the national legislature, Premier Wen Jiabao set a target for 7.5 percent economic growth this year, unchanged from the goal set for last year.
“The domestic economy is certainly recovering, but it’s still hard to tell the strength (of the recovery),” Zhang Zhiwei, a Hong Kong-based economist for Nomura Securities, told AFP.
Manufacturing activity in China expanded at its slowest rate in five months in February, official data showed earlier this month, with the official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) standing at 50.1.
PMI is a widely watched barometer of the health of China’s economy, with a reading above 50 indicating expansion while anything below points to contraction.
Stock investors ignored the positive trade data, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ending the morning session down 0.18 percent on Friday.