China gives miners another scare as $58 billion monthly swing hands it largest trade deficit in 12 years

Losses for mining and energy companies were almost across the board on Monday after trade data from China showed a deficit that was the largest in 12-years.

China, which has become the world economy's main engine of growth,  recorded a $31 billion deficit in February versus a $27 billion surplus in January.

MarketWatch quotes Nomura economist Zhiwei Zhang as saying:  "Overall, economic conditions are getting weaker at a fast pace. The slowdown is happening faster than the government expected."

For the year official estimates are for exports  to slow dramatically – sliding from 20% last year to a 10% expansion of imports and exports expected in 2012.

The slump in exports  comes just one week after growth targets for the world’s second largest economy were ratcheted down to an 8-year low.

On Monday the resource-heavy Toronto market ended down 0.6% overall but the losses among miners and oil companies were steeper.

Oil sands player Canadian Natural Resources closed down 3.1%  at C$34.40, Cenovus gave up 1.9% at $36.71 and Suncor Energy fell 3.2% to C$33.19.  Oil was trading at $106.56 a barrel in late trade, not much changed on the day.

Gold counters were pressured by the yellow metal's slump below the $1,700 level in morning trade. The precious metal settled at a shade under, closing at $1,699.80 for the April contract.

Goldcorp  ended 1.4%  cheaper at C$46.25, Kinross lost 1.6% to $10.82, but Barrick investors had a relatively good day only losing 16c or 0.3% at $45.29. Yamana and Agnico Eagle gave up close to 3% on the day.

Potashcorp of Saskatchewan dove just under 2% to $42.81. Vancouver-based coal and copper giant Teck Resources shed 2.9% to C$35.49, but the losses among the other big diversified miners' ADRs trading in New York were not as steep.

Investors in world number one BHP Billiton and Anglo-American  curbed losses to less than 1%, but  Brazil's Vale's  gave up 2.5% in New York. World number three miner Rio Tinto shed 1.4% .

China dominates the global trade in just about every commodity including iron ore (representing 47% of world trade), copper (38%), coal (47%), nickel (36%), lead (44%), zinc (41%) and the country is also expected to overtake India as the largest importer of potash in the near future.

China last week forecast that it will grow by 7.5% this year. China recorded GDP growth of 9.2% in 2011 and annual growth has averaged 10.4% since 2001, peaking in 2007 at 13%.