It is largely subjective and anecdotal, but the people I trust on such issues seem to be increasingly of the view that the US economy may have already quietly turned the corner from boom to slide.
The US consumer spending spree of the last two decades has fueled the massive expansion of the global economy in general and the transformation of China in particular from backward socialist basket case through to advanced capitalist powerhouse.
Now it appears that the party is finally coming to a close – although the fact is hidden behind statistics, Bush administration padding and obfuscation, and residual consumer optimism based on so many good years.
The US stock equity markets, it is said, are increasingly likely to see a downturn at some point in 2007, despite the best efforts of the Cheney clique to keep things singing along through to the 2008 presidential election.
George Soros has predicted that the US will slip into recession in 2007, in the form of a hard landing, not a relatively painless soft landing. US consumers are plunging ever more deeply into debt; the US housing market is viewed by some as heading into slowdown territory; and high energy prices, which have so far had surprisingly little obvious impact, will at some point kick in to drag down growth.
Economic pessimists can no doubt add further impending maladies to the pile.
The one good thing about it all is that it would reduce the Cheney clique's chances of winning in 2008. But the implications for China would not be good.
The prospect of China's GDP continuing to expand at 10% year-on-year in perpetuity is zero. From the viewpoint of today, I see no prospect of a significant slowdown in the near future, assuming other factors remain relatively equal.
But a significant downturn in the US economy – that could end the equilibrium.
It wouldn't kill China growth of course. There are other factors at work here, including the massive growth of the middle class domestic economy. But the knock-on effect of a downturn in exports? I doubt anyone could predict accurately the impact on the overall China economy.
For the optimists amongst us, there are grounds to believe that the masterminds who run the global economy have to a large extent learned how to manipulate the macro and micro levers to largely smooth out impending economic troughs. Next year could see a particularly searching test of that optimism.