Exports rose 25 percent in January from a year earlier, the government reported, while imports soared 28 percent. A large part of the increase was due to companies rushing to fill orders before shutting down for up to two weeks for the Lunar New Year holidays that begin Sunday.
"Seeing the underlying trend is a little difficult. Nevertheless, the data were above expectations and seem generally positive," said Moody's Analytics economist Alaistair Chan in a report.
A more accurate picture of China's trade at the beginning of the year will emerge once February's data is released, said Dariusz Kowalczyk of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong. But he added that investors still might interpret the January figures at face value and push up stock markets.
European stocks rose in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent to 6,257.97. Germany's DAX added 0.4 percent to 7,616.93 and France's CAC-40 advanced 0.6 percent 3,623.22.
Wall Street was poised for a higher opening after a session of losses. Dow futures rose nearly 0.1 percent to 13,909 and S&P 500 futures advanced 0.1 percent to 1,506.70.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 23,215.16. South Korea's Kospi advanced 1 percent to 1,950.90. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7 percent to 4,971.30. Benchmarks in Singapore, mainland China and Thailand also rose.
Japan's Nikkei 225 tumbled 1.8 percent to 11,153.16, slumping after a recent rally spurred by a weakening yen.
Some analysts believe the yen's weakness may have bottomed out. A weaker yen benefits Japan's export manufacturers because it makes their products cheaper in overseas markets.
Many stock markets across Asia, including those in mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, will be closed Monday for holidays celebrating the Lunar New Year. Hong Kong's holidays run through to Wednesday while China and Taiwan are closed all week. Japan's markets are also closed Monday.
Among individual stocks, Japan's Panasonic Corp. fell 5.4 percent while Sony Corp. plummeted 10.1 percent. The struggling electronics giant reported a 10.7 billion yen ($115 million) loss for the October-December quarter on Thursday.
South Korea's Samsung Electronics rose 3 percent. Australia's Newcrest Mining advanced 5 percent.
Wall Street fell Thursday as weaker earnings unnerved investors despite data suggesting that company layoffs are easing. Media conglomerate News Corp. cut its forecast for annual earnings. Sprint Nextel Corp., the third-largest wireless carrier in the U.S., lost $1.3 billion in its latest quarter as it revamped its network to take on larger competitors.
On the bright side, fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week. Applications for unemployment benefits falling 5,000 to 366,000.
Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 14 cents to $95.97 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 79 cents to finish at $95.83 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3407 from $1.3401 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was down at 92.80 yen from 93.52 yen.
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