You only get a touch of the picture from the third-quarter GDP figures, which came in at annualized growth of 9.4%. Fast, for sure, but also suspiciously similar to the first two quarters, which came in at 9.4% and 9.5%, respectively.
Chinese GDP figures have long displayed a smoothness of the kind that would make Jack Welch proud. Just like the GE boss famous for his ability to keep his earnings on target, so too do China's economic statisticians manage to produce figures to keep their leaders looking good.
The Chinese figures are all over the place in some respects. They show, for example, that real investment in the first half of this year too in other words, the rate of investment after you factor in the statistician's measure of inflation – increased in the first half of this year.
This is an astounding result, when you remember that Chinese leaders have been banging the drum for well over a year about the need to reduce investment, which has made up nearly half of GDP for the past few years. For sure, there has been a lot of spending on so-called bottleneck sectors, such as the railways and power, but not so much as to make up for the slowdown in the property sector, and more.
But even if the official statistics have been damped down a little to ensure that Mr. and Mrs. Zhou Public understand that the economy is "Stable," the figures are useful for one thing at least: they give you some sense of the larger trends. And the trend picked up in the third quarter is definitely one of accelerating growth, the result of consistently strong consumption, but more importantly, a rebound in domestic demand, which in China is code for more investment in property and infrastructure. The trend was apparent before the third-quarter figures came out because of a spike in imports in August and September, always a bellwether for strong investment. China's trade negotiators will not be unhappy about an increase in imports, as it may help ease the pressure they are constantly under from the US and the EU over China's swelling trade surplus.
But otherwise, a new surge in investment should be ringing alarm bells in Beijing, because it is further evidence that the rebalancing of the economy that policymakers have been talking about for a year is as elusive as ever.
The Chinese save and Americans consume; these two facts of global economic life are the main drivers underlying the global imbalances bedevilling so many economists these days. They also help explain China's huge investment rate. The money in the banks has to be used for something.
And the central bank, after stifling loans from the big four state banks over the last 12 months, appears to have been letting a little more money into the system since July.
If the central bank is really letting off the brakes, China is heading for double-digit growth next year.
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