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China’s exports slip in a sign of a slowing global economy. U.S. firms could feel the pinch.

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A worker walks between storage shelves in a warehouse in China

A warehouse in China. The government said its exports fell 0.3% in October year over year. Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

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The U.S. isn’t alone in releasing a ton of economic data at the beginning of every month. China, does too — and Monday, we got some not-very-pretty trade numbers from Beijing. Analysts had been expecting Chinese exports to rise, but instead, they fell 0.3% in October compared to the same time last year. 

Part of what’s going on has to do with China’s COVID lockdowns, which are still limiting production in parts of the country, said Anne Stevenson-Yang at J Capital Research.

“Now we’re going into the winter and they’re reporting more and more cases, so they’ll have more and more excuses to lock down,” she said.

But China has another problem: The rest of the world isn’t buying as many Chinese products.

The struggling real estate se ctor here in the U.S. is a good example, said David Dollar at the Brookings Institution.

“China exports a lot of household appliances to the U.S — refrigerators, stoves,” he said. “What we see in the data is that was down 20% last month.”

Exports of toys fell 18%, and clothing exports were down 17%.

Woo Wing Thye at the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network said the global economy is slowing down, so importers of Chinese goods don’t want to buy what they might not sell.

“Distributors anticipate a forthcoming recession, and hence they have cut back on their orders,” he said.

China’s economy has been struggling during the pandemic because of those COVID lockdowns and a troubled real estate sector.

Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, said exports have been propping up China’s economy.

And now that they’re slowing down?

“That’s going to feed through to, probably, unemployment in China in the export sector, it’s going to depress wages, it’s going to make people more nervous,” he said. “And so they’re going to be spending less.”

And that, Williams said, could affect American companies that do business in China — including automakers and Big Tech.

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