* Sept exports fall 3.7 pct y/y, less than expected -6.3 pct
* Imports slump 20.4 pct y/y vs forecast -15.0
* Month-on-month figures generally improve
* View of slowing economy, more stimulus remains intact (Adds background, quote on stimulus)
By Xiaoyi Shao and Pete Sweeney
BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Oct 13 (Reuters) – China’s exports fell less than expected in September, with monthly figures showing recovery, but a sharper fall in imports left economists divided over whether the country’s ailing trade sector is showing signs of turning around.
On the surface, the trade data on Tuesday reinforced views that the world’s second-largest economy is still slowly losing momentum, putting more pressure on Beijing to roll out further stimulus measures and keeping global markets on edge.
But the numbers did not suggest a greater risk of a hard landing, either, as some investors have feared.
Exports fell 3.7 percent from the same period last year, less than a 6.3 percent drop forecast by economists in a Reuters poll and moderating from a 5.5 percent decline in August.
However, imports by value tumbled for the 11th straight month, losing over 20 percent year-on-year in September due to weak commodity prices and soft domestic demand, which will continue to complicate Beijing’s efforts to stave off deflation.
Economists had expected a 15.0 percent drop, after a 13.8 percent decline in the previous month.
Highlighting persistent weakness in demand at home and abroad, China’s combined exports and imports fell 8.1 percent in the first nine months of the year from the same period in 2014, well below the full-year official target of 6 percent growth.
That will likely reinforce expectations that Beijing will cut interest rates again in coming months and announce other measures to avert a sharper economic slowdown.
“In general, there are no green shoots in this set of data,” said Zhou Hao, senior economist at Commerzbank in Singapore.
“The growth of port throughput volume still remains low.”
However, monthly figures were more rosy.