As gloom gathered over China’s economic outlook in March last year, GoldmanSachs Group Inc. economist Song Yu declared growth likely had “troughed” and a rebound would follow. The top forecaster on China’s economy was proven right, and sees a repeat this year.
“Now it’s very similar to this time of last year in terms of having a combination of monetary, fiscal and administrative loosening,” said Beijing-based Song, ranked the best overall forecaster of China’s economy by Bloomberg Rankings for the past two years. “The data in recent years consistently show us one thing: If the Chinese government really, really wants to push up short-term growth, they can.”
Reflecting that determination, the central bank Sunday announced the third benchmark interest rate cut of the past six months, which combines with two reductions to banks’ reserve ratios and targeted liquidity injections. Song’s sanguine stance is echoed by other economists on the top five forecasters list, who don’t see a hard landing scenario.
The ranking of economic forecasters is based on the last two years of data reported to April 21 and uses estimates submitted to Bloomberg for nine key indicators that include GDP, exports, imports, fixed-asset investment and consumer and producer prices. They commented before the People’s Bank of China’s latest cut, which lowers the benchmark lending rate by 0.25 percentage point to 5.1 percent and the one-year deposit level to 2.25 percent.
To conjure their forecasts on the world’s second-biggest economy, the top ranked economists need to deal with official data that Premier Li once said he prefers not to rely on and that prompted bond fund manager Bill Gross to call China “the mystery meat of emerging-market countries.”
Problems with China’s data abound. The National Bureau of Statistics reported a 2014 gross domestic product of $10.2 trillion while the sum of the GDP reported by China’s provinces was $765 billion more. The discrepancy may be due to double counting or by officials inflating figures because their performance is assessed partly on the strength of economic growth.
Secrecy over the weighting of a basket of goods used to measure inflation, the measurement of consumption relying too much on retail sales, and the decentralization of data collection are among flaws cited in a January 2013 paper by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on the reliability of China’s data.
Unlike counterparts in many developed economies, economists in China need to clean economic data of “dirt, pesticides and all the funny chemicals before we can start cooking with it,” says Song.