China's trade growth rebounded strongly in December in a positive sign for the gradual and still uncertain recovery of the world's second-largest economy.

Export growth more than quadrupled from the previous month to 14.1%.

Imports - which failed to grow at all in November - rose 6% in a sign of increasing domestic demand, data showed today.

The trade figures add to evidence China is gradually emerging from its worst economic downturn since the 2008 global crisis.

Factory output and other activity improved in the final quarter of 2012, but analysts said a recovery is still shaky and will be too weak to drive a global rebound without a turnaround in the US and Europe.

The World Bank and private sector forecasters expect Chinese growth of about 8% in 2012 and about 7.5% this year. That would be stronger than the West and Japan but China's weakest performance since the 1990s.

Beijing is pinning its hopes for recovery on government-driven investment and domestic consumer spending that is rising but not as fast as authorities want. Officials warned last year that global demand was so weak that trade would contribute little or nothing to overall economic growth.

The country's global trade surplus nearly doubled over the same month in 2011, rising 90% to $231.1 billion, according to the General Administration of Customs. For the full year, the global trade surplus rose 49% to $231.1 billion.

For the full year, the US temporarily overtook debt-troubled Europe as China's biggest trading partner. Exports to the US totalled $351.8 billion while those to the 27-nation European Union were $334 billion. Beijing's politically sensitive trade surplus with the US was $18.7 billion in December and $218.9 billion for the year.

In November, Chinese export growth plunged to 2.9% while exports were flat. That was in line with analysts' warnings that a trade rebound that started in August was unsustainable due to weak European and US demand.

Reliance on trade has declined as domestic consumption growth but export-driven manufacturing still employs millions of workers and any weakness raises the risk of job losses and unrest.

The commerce minister, Chen Deming, warned in November that exporters face "relatively grim" conditions in coming months and "many difficulties" in 2013.

The government set a 10% target for trade growth in 2012 part of its recovery plan but growth in total imports and exports weakened steadily throughout the year. It fell to 5.8% for the 11 months to November before December's rebound.

Import growth has been depressed by government curbs aimed at cooling a boom in construction and industrial investment that have cooled demand for foreign iron ore, copper and other raw materials.

China's Communist leaders want to shift the basis of economic growth to domestic consumption and services, a strategy that promises smaller but more sustainable gains. That could hurt commodities suppliers such as Australia, Brazil and some African economies, where Chinese spending has fueled an economic boom.

Chinese state industry profits drop

Total profits for China's biggest state-owned companies fell 6.9% in the first 11 months of 2012 as an economic slowdown deepened, the government said today.

The squeeze even for the biggest, politically favoured Chinese companies highlighted the severity of the country's worst economic downturn since the 2008 global crisis.

Economic activity rebounded late in the year but analysts say a recovery is still shaky and will be gradual and weak.

Growth fell to 7.4% in the three months ending in September and is believed to have strengthened in the final quarter.

The Cabinet agency that oversees China's 116 biggest state-owned companies said they had total profit of 1.7 trillion yuan ($270 billion) in the year to November. Those companies include PetroChina, Bank of China, China Mobile and other major corporate names.

That was an improvement over the 16.4% decline in profit reported for the same companies in the first half of the year.

Despite weaker profits, total assets at the major state companies increased 15.1% to 69 trillion yuan ($10.9 trillion), according to the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

The wealth of major state companies has fuelled public frustration. The companies receive low-cost bank loans, energy and other resources and many are monopolies or quasi-monopolies.

Communist leaders say China needs to build up such companies as economic champions but consumers complain about high prices and poor service.

China's expansion is still far more robust than Western economies or Japan but its companies have come to depend on unusually high growth to stay profitable. State companies are far healthier financially than retailers, builders and other private sector companies. They say revenues fell by as much as half last year.