China's monthly trade surplus fell to $19.6 billion in November, down 38.6 percent from October, the government said Monday as weak overseas demand weighed on the world's second-largest economy.
The national customs bureau said China's November exports rose 2.9 percent year-on-year to $179.4 billion, while imports were flat at $159.8 billion.
November's surplus is far below the median forecast of $27.8 billion given by economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. They also predicted a 9.6-percent expansion in exports and 1.9 percent increase in imports.
The disappointing figures suggested that drivers of a rebound in the Chinese economy were still weak, analysts said.
"The extremely weak exports data have thrown in one more piece of evidence about the fragility of the recovery," Ren Xianfang, a Beijing-based China economist with research firm IHS Global Insight, said in a note.
China's economic growth -- seen as a key factor in the world's economic recovery -- hit a more than three-year low of 7.4 percent in the third quarter.
But recent data including industrial production, retail sales and fixed asset investment -- a key gauge of infrastructure spending -- have all shown improvement, fuelling optimism that the worst was over.
However, economists said the rebound had been largely been driven by infrastructure spending, which the government boosted to create an impression of prosperity during the five-yearly Communist Party congress last month.
"A rebound of the economy is just a matter of time, given that the destocking cycle which started in the final quarter of 2011 is nearing an end," Ren said. "But political factors have apparently contributed to a much earlier rebound."