China’s exports expanded in November from one year ago while imports surprisingly shrank, with headline figures lifted by a comparison with a Covid-hit period in 2022.

Overseas shipments in dollar terms rose 0.5% from a year ago, the General Administration of Customs said Thursday. That’s slightly better than the median economists’ forecast of no change, and marked the first year-on-year expansion since April.

Imports declined 0.6%, compared with the consensus expectation of a 3.9% gain. The resulting trade surplus was $68.39 billion.

Exports are usually stronger in the final months of a year, due to a surge in demand ahead of the Christmas and holiday season overseas. Disruptions from the pandemic in November last year resulted in a steep contraction in trade, which will make the headline numbers this year look better by comparison.

Investors are watching for signs of improvement in the nation’s economy after recent signs of fresh weakness. China is expected to convene two key economic policy meetings this month, where top leaders may signal a more pro-growth stance and hint at the kind of stimulus they are planning for 2024. 

After soaring demand during the pandemic helped drive China’s economy, net exports has turned into a drag for growth this year, as demand for goods wanes. That’s compounded the domestic economic challenges of a worsening property crisis and weak domestic demand.