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19/10/2015 | Official data say China’s economy is barely slowing. Are they believable?

The Economist Staff

FOR most countries, delivering resilient growth when investors had expected an abrupt slowdown would be impressive. China is different.

 

The announcement that its economygrew 6.9% in the third quarter, just below the second quarter’s 7% pace, is more grist for the already-brimming mill of scepticism about its data. Such are the doubts about Chinese figures that it is difficult to write a straightforward analysis of them without riddling it with caveats about what is and is not credible. So it is sensible to look at the latest numbers in two parts: what the government reported and what ought to be believed.

The official data are indeed impressive, not least because they cover a quarter during whichconcerns about China's economy were so widespread. July began with the stockmarket in turmoil, falling some 40% from peak to trough. Flailing attempts by the government to prop up share prices tarnished its reputation for technocratic competence. A mini-devaluation of the yuan in August added to the feeling that China’s economy was in trouble. And a series of surveys pointed to contraction in the manufacturing sector.

Against that bleak backdrop, growth of 6.9% is a remarkably good performance. It might be China’s slowest quarter since early 2009, the nadir after the global financial crisis, but the economy is twice as big now as it was then. A gradual, steady rebalancing of the growth model helps explain the solid figures. As commodity exporters can readily attest, China’s factories are struggling. The industrial sector expanded 5.8% year on year in the third quarter, just about the weakest in more than two decades. But China is changing. The services sector expanded 8.6% year on year in the third quarter, matching its strongest growth since 2011. That is important because, as of a few years ago, services account for a bigger share of the economy than industry does.

The transition can also be seen in the seemingly relentless slowdown of investment versus much more robust consumption. Overall investment rose 10.3% year on year in the first nine months of 2015, the lowest in 15 years. But retail sales nudged up to 10.8% growth year on year in real terms in September, a seven-month high. A healthy labour market has supported this rebalancing. Income growth actually improved a touch in the third quarter, accelerating to a 7.7% year-on-year increase in real terms.

Just how believable are these numbers? Analysts who question the data can generally be sorted into two camps: those who think that China’s numbers are out-and-out fabrications, concealing the economy’s true, grim state; and those who think that China’s numbers are embellishments, inflating growth but not altogether misrepresenting it. The weight of evidence is on the side of the latter.

The most extreme scepticism about Chinese data focuses on a range of indicators that have served in the past as decent barometers for the broader economy. Power output, for example, has risen just 0.1% so far this year, which would normally imply that real growth is far slower than the government's figure. Imports have also been very weak, falling nearly 18% year on year in September. But these indicators are windows onto the industrial sector, the very part of the economy that is suffering the steepest deceleration. Trying to get a full read on growth from import data is even more problematic: plunging commodity prices have depressed the value of Chinese imports. What is more, the shift towards more services-led growth shows up in current-account statistics, not monthly merchandise trade figures.

There are stronger grounds for the milder form of scepticism: China does appear to be doctoring its growth data a little. The controversy centres on the way that the statistics bureau adjusts nominal growth figures to account for inflation. In the third quarter, nominal growth was 6.2% but the government calculated that overall prices fell by about 0.7%, allowing real growth to hit 6.9%. That is odd, since consumer price inflation picked up a little in the third quarter, rising to 1.4%. Moreover, much of the apparent deflation stems from falling producer prices, but those, to a large extent, reflect falls in imported commodity prices, not domestic deflation. It is fiendishly difficult to calculate alternative deflators, since they rely on heroic assumptions about sectoral weights and price levels. But analysts who have developed rough substitutes for the economy as a whole put growth closer to 5-6%.

One partial solution is to look at the government’s nominal data alone, ignoring its deflator. Here, the picture that emerges is more closely aligned with the impression of a sustained slowdown in China. Nominal growth fell to 6.2% year on year in the third quarter, markedly lower than the second quarter 7.1% pace. It was the slowest since 1999 and less than a third of the jaw-dropping 20% nominal rate chalked up in 2011. What’s more, the collapse in commodity prices has flattered China’s growth rate. The resulting fall in imports has translated directly into a big rise in the trade surplus, boosting overall growth. Stripping out net exports, China’s nominal domestic-demand growth is probably closer to 5%, according to analysts with China International Capital Corp, a local investment bank. That is a sharper slowdown than the one portrayed by the government. But it is still a good deal better than the hard landing feared for China just a few months ago.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 



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07/10/2009|
07/10/2009|
04/10/2009|
30/09/2009|
30/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
22/09/2009|
20/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
08/09/2009|
07/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
29/04/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House