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During periods of “low visibility,” confusion reigns: for every indication of one trend, there seems to be a countertrend. The key is to glean from the collective wisdom of reliable leading indicators a clear signal that the economy is headed for a turn.

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Though its latest statement noted that the Fed “is monitoring global economic and financial developments,” some celebrated the shift away from September’s more alarming view that weakness abroad may “restrain [U.S.] economic activity.” Yet, falling Chinese imports are already hurting key overseas economies, potentially weakening U.S. export demand and worsening import price deflation.

After peaking last fall, monthly Chinese imports from its East Asian neighbors (Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) have dropped by $9 billion (top line in chart). Meanwhile, since its late 2014 high, Chinese imports from the European Union have fallen by $4½ billion (bottom line).

Cumulatively, China has imported some $80 billion less from its East Asian neighbors, and $40 billion less from Europe, than if imports had stayed at their recent highs. In effect, these hits to exports cut already-meager European GDP growth by 0.3%, and East Asian GDP growth by 1.2%. This falloff in Chinese imports is also largely responsible for feeble Japanese GDP growth.

It is the plunge in Chinese imports from export-dependent economies – not stabilization in Chinese stock prices – that is the true measure of its economic weakness and its transmission overseas. On that score, the anemic Chinese economy continues to weigh on global growth prospects.

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