China cooks the books: the official numbers understate economic growth

01/25/2011 6:50 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

Everyone assumes that China cooks its numbers on inflation and GDP growth. (The rest of the world’s governments, including that of the United States, would never do something like that. Wink, wink.)

The January 18 report of fourth quarter GDP growth and December inflation was a case in point: Economic growth picked up only slightly to 9.8% for the quarter, an increase from 9.6% in the third quarter. Inflation actually fell to 4.6% in December from 5.1% in November. All in all a reassuring package that said neither growth nor inflation had yet turned into runaway trains.

If you want another read on China’s economy, however, Li Keqiang, the apparent successor as China’s premier to Wen Jiabao, has some advice for investors.In a leaked 2007 cable, the Financial Times noted on January 18, Li, then a provincial party head, said he preferred to look at three other economic indicators because they were harder to manipulate. The three, electricity consumption, rail cargo volume, and bank lending, paint a different picture than the official image of controlled growth.

Electricity consumption, the newspaper reports, soared by 15% in 2010. That was a big jump from the 2009 growth rate of 7%. Rail volume was up 10% in the first 11 months of 2010, about double the five-year average rate of growth. And bank lending, at 480 billion yuan in new loans for December, ran at about 10 times the new loan volume for 2007.

If the official economic growth numbers have been “tweaked” that much, makes you wonder how much modification the official inflation numbers have received?

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