FORTUNE -- Chinese imports and exports fell off a cliff in March, and the Chinese economy isn't the only one dealing with lagging trade figures.
Chinese exports plunged by 6.6% over the last 12 months ending in March, and they were flat in the year ended in December. This was well below the 4% increase in exports many economists had expected. True, data from China can be volatile and difficult to interpret. Some are attributing the drop to a crackdown on Chinese companies using exports as a means to evade capital controls. Andrew Tilton, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Asia, called this the "main reason" for the plunge, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Markets in Asia did seem to shrug off the report initially, perhaps buying the explanation that the dip was due to bad Chinese data, but Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, isn't so optimistic.
He argues that the data out of China is just the latest in a series of worrying signs that global trade is slumping. Weinberg points to an anomaly in trade data, pictured in the chart below, which shows "an obvious historic correlation between global industrial output and the volume of world trade."
The problem is, while export growth hasn't really recovered to pre-crisis levels, industrial production has somehow stayed strong. This doesn't make a lot of sense, as producers need to sell their products somewhere in order to keep up economic activity. "That means we have to expect the anomaly to reverse, and we are worried that it will happen through a retracement of the pace of production," Weinberg writes.
In other words, the above chart could be a sign that industrial production is about to fall off a cliff, and the data out of China on Thursday is just another warning sign that this will happen soon.
So where else is trade suffering? Mostly in Europe, where both Britain and France announced disappointing export figures this week. The main outlier is Germany, which recently reported a 4.6% year-over-year growth in exports. But this might simply be a sign that Europe is failing to rebalance its own economy -- away from an over-reliance on German exports -- as the European economy gains strength.
What to do about this slumping trade? Weinberg suggests stimulus, writing
The policy response is simple: Boost economic growth. Growing economies import more, boosting the exports of other economies. It's just that simple. As long as fiscal policy in much of the world remains committed to austerity and monetary policy remains tapped out, global demand will be weak and trade will not flourish.
That's easier said than done, of course. Britain and France are both struggling under large amounts of government debt. Meanwhile, China appears to be moving forward with plans to make its economy more open and liberal, which means it won't be able to resort to its usual stimulative tactics like currency depreciation and pumping cheap money into its economy without facing destabilizing consequences.
Russia and the U.S. are free to antagonize each other because they have very little to lose economically from deteriorated relations.
FORTUNE -- It's the economies, stupid.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation officially annexing Crimea on Tuesday, in blatant disregard of threats of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama announced over the weekend. And while some have considered the events in Ukraine the result of geopolitical posturing (Arizona Senator John McCain, MOREChristopher Matthews - Mar 18, 2014 11:28 AM ET
If you don't want your dollars going toward Chinese-made products, don't sweat it -- most of the cash you spend on them goes to U.S. companies and workers.
By Sheridan Prasso, contributor
FORTUNE -- Worried about buying a $70 pair of sneakers that say "Made in China" this back-to-school season because you'd rather spend your dollars on "Made in U.S.A." products instead? Worry not, according to a new study.
More than half the MOREAug 12, 2011 5:00 AM ET
We've returned to pre-recession levels in our exports, but every other sector of the economy still has a ways to go.
FORTUNE – After more than a two-year slump, the U.S. is finally exporting as much as it did before one of history's longest economic recessions. Between June 2008 and April 2009, U.S. goods and services sold to the world fell by 23%, or $39 billion. Since then, exports have risen MORENin-Hai Tseng, Writer - May 19, 2011 11:35 AM ET
It's boom time in Mongolia, which had a record $1.4 billion in foreign direct investment in 2010, thanks to its copper, gold, and coal -- and neighbor China's insatiable hunger for the commodities.
Ever heard of the tugrik? It's the official currency of Mongolia -- the land of Genghis Khan where, over the past few years, foreign investors have flocked to the sparsely populated country in search of riches.
It was also MORENin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Feb 23, 2011 5:00 AM ET
The fate of the global economy may hinge on surging oil production from the world's biggest exporter. But it's not clear that the Saudis have the juice.
Oil prices spiked Tuesday as violence swept Libya, raising the prospect that the world's 18th-biggest oil producer could be taken off line.
OPEC sought to ease fears of a supply shock, promising to release reserves and increase production if need be. The International Energy Agency said MOREColin Barr - Feb 22, 2011 11:32 AM ET
Maybe the rare earths aren't as rare as we thought.
Shares of the rare earth stocks, notably Vancouver-based trader Rare Element Resources (REE) and Colorado's Molycorp (MCP), plunged Thursday after the New York Times reported China had resumed shipments of rare earth elements.
Shares of the Van Eck Market Vectors Rare Earth Strategic Metals exchange-traded fund dropped 1% in their debut, reversing the morning's 2% gain.
Molycorp, which is poised to become the MOREColin Barr - Oct 28, 2010 3:08 PM ET
The renminbi must rise, or the red hot China trade machine is going to overheat.
So warns the Council on Foreign Relations, which lays out the argument for a stronger Chinese currency in a blog post Monday that accompanies the nifty graphic to the right.
That chart shows Chinese export growth has gone parabolic since the global economy started recovering last spring. It hit 40% in the year ended in March, according MOREColin Barr - Oct 25, 2010 10:47 AM ET
The falling dollar could boost exports and help American multi-nationals compete abroad. But any impact it has on earnings won't be enough to boost the overall economy.
The value of the U.S. dollar has fallen to record lows recently on signs that the Federal Reserve will likely unleash another round of newly-printed money to boost the economic recovery.
Since a weaker dollar generally makes selling goods and services abroad cheaper, many expect MORENin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Oct 19, 2010 11:32 AM ET
The Carlyle Group co-founder says the U.S. threatens to fall behind China, thanks to our growing deficit and government debt. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner downplays the threat of a looming trade war.
Ever since China's economy surpassed Japan's this past summer, speculation has escalated over when the country might take over the United States as the world's largest. The estimate has ranged from 2030 to 2035, the latter date MORENin-Hai Tseng, Writer - Oct 1, 2010 9:23 AM ET
|How Zuck met Oculus: Facebook's big bet on virtual reality|
|Fears grow over China property flameout|
|Oklahoma bans local minimum wage increases|
|China GDP slows to 7.4% in first quarter|
|Researchers claim to hack fingerprint sensor on Samsung's new Galaxy S5|