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Get Ready for China's GDP Numbers

How seriously should we take economic data from China?...

LET THE countdown begin. China's fourth quarter GDP numbers come out on Friday, writes Dan Denning, editor of the Daily Reckoning Australia.

We reckon most of the run up in Australia's stock market has been in anticipation of good news. If form holds, stocks will trade down once the news is in.

As for the news itself, well, is it really news? That is, does a GDP figure really tell you anything useful? GDP is whatever government statisticians want it to be.

Granted, it has to bear some semblance to reality, or else it will be suspect. But otherwise...

For example, China's positive November trade data from last week is receiving extra scrutiny. Analysts at Goldman Sachs and UBS say the 14.1% jump in exports – the biggest jump since March 2011 – didn't 'match goods movements through ports and imports by trading partners,' according to Bloomberg.

Now just because one set of data doesn't match another doesn't mean anyone's deliberately trying to deceive. GDP in a large economy is not an easy thing to measure to begin with. And it measures transactions more than something more fundamental. It's a bit like measuring the health and quality of a meal by the number of calories in it, rather than by nutrition and composition of those calories.

But the data feast continues. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect fourth quarter Chinese GDP to be 7.8%. That would be up from the three-year low of 7.4% in the third quarter. And really, what on earth could prompt an 'analyst' to estimate than an economy the size of China's would grow by 7.8% instead of 7.4% or some other figure?

The answer is obvious. China's GDP is a made up number, just like most GDP numbers. It's also controlled by the State, to the extent that government spending is a large component of GDP (investment and consumption being other large factors). The Chinese economy has a history of hitting its targets. If it wants to hit 8% or so, it probably will.

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Best-selling author of The Bull Hunter (Wiley & Sons) and formerly analyzing equities and publishing investment ideas from Baltimore, Paris, London and then Melbourne, Dan Denning is now co-author of The Bill Bonner Letter from Bonner & Partners.

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