Center for Pacific Basin Studies

The Center for Pacific Basin Studies promotes cooperation among central banks in the Pacific Basin and provide insight into and analysis of economic policy issues affecting the region.

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Pacific Basin Notes

Occasional series of the FRBSF Economic Letter

How Severe Is China’s Slowdown? Evidence from China CAT


John Fernald, Neil Gerstein, and Mark Spiegel | October 7, 2019

China’s official GDP shows that its pace of economic growth has slowed gradually since 2010 but remains remarkably high, around 6%. A new index, the China Cyclical Activity Tracker, or China CAT, provides an alternative way to measure fluctuations in Chinese economic activity using a weighted average of several non-GDP indicators. The index suggests that economic activity has slowed noticeably since 2017 to a pace slightly below trend. GDP growth statistics appear excessively smooth over recent years, but, as of mid-2019, are in line with the China CAT.

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Working Papers

Is China Fudging Its GDP Figures? Evidence from Trading Partner Data

Working Paper 2019-19

Fernald • Hsu • Spiegel | August 2019

We propose using imports, measured as reported exports of trading partners, as an alternative benchmark to gauge the accuracy of alternative Chinese indicators (including GDP) of fluctuations in economic activity. Externally-reported imports are likely to be relatively well measured, as well as free from domestic manipulation. Using principal components, we derive activity indices from a wide range of indicators and examine their fit to (trading-partner reported) imports. We choose a preferred index of eight non-GDP indicators (which we call the China Cyclical Activity Tracker, or C-CAT). Comparison with that index and others indicate that Chinese statistics have broadly become more reliable in measuring cyclical fluctuations over time. However, GDP adds little information relative to combinations of other indicators. Moreover, since 2013, Chinese GDP growth has shown little volatility around a gradually slowing trend. Other measures, including the C-CAT and imports, do not show this reduction in volatility. Since 2017, the C-CAT slowed from well above trend to close to trend. As of mid- 2019, it was giving the same cyclical signal as GDP.

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