While the market’s attention overnight was focused on China’s crumbling manufacturing and service PMI, data which was already hinted in the flash PMI reports earlier in August, the real stunner came not from China but from South Korea, which last night reported an unprecedented 14.7% collapse in exports, far worse than the -5.9% consensus estimate, and more than 4 times worse than July’s 3.4%.
The number is critical because not only do exports account for about half of South Korea’s GDP (with Samusng alone anecdotally accountable for 20% of the country’s GDP), but because it also happens to be the first major exporting country to report monthly trade data. That makes it the perfect barometer of global trade flows, or as the case may be, the canary in the global trade coalmine. It also confirms what we reported just one week ago when we said that “Global Trade Is In Freefall“.
The carnage in Korean trade is unmistakable in the following Barclays chart:
Putting South Korea plunging trade in context, this was the worst monthly decline since August 2009, and was coupled by an 18.3% tumble in imports, the biggest drop since February. Worse, South Korea may soon run into a true Black Swan: a trade deficit: in August, the country’s trade surplus tightened to just $4.3 billion, one third worse than tha $6.1 billion expected, and nearly less tthan half the $7.7 billion surplus in July, suggesting South Korea may be forced to dip into its reserves next, or finally engage in what many have said is long overdue: the next Asian currency devaluation as China’s FX war spills over to what may be the most important harbinger of global trade.
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