Chinese growth seems to be picking up again. According to figures released Tuesday, April 18 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China recorded growth of 4.5% in the first quarter of 2023 year on year. A pace that marks a clear recovery after the abandonment of the drastic measures of the zero Covid policy applied for three years.
But these figures are struggling to convince the experts, as the reality on the ground seems so different. “It’s a total fiction”, commented, on Twitter, the consulting firm China Beige Book, which collects its own data by questioning the companies present in China. A panel of economists polled by Bloomberg predicted growth of 3.9%.
The most surprising indicator is, in fact, the increase in retail sales, which measure consumption, of 10.6% over one year in March. Over the quarter, they increased by 5.8%. Industrial production, on the other hand, was slightly disappointed, at 3.9%, slightly below forecasts. Youth unemployment also remains at historically high levels, at 19.6%. While the official figures no doubt reflect a trend, that of the ongoing recovery, they are probably not an exact reflection of the Chinese economy.
In fact, the population consumes more than at the end of 2022, when repeated confinements prevented part of the country from spending its money, while destroying the confidence of those who could leave their homes. Chinese people can go out again, meet at restaurants and visit tourist places. However, consumers remain cautious, hesitating in particular to buy more expensive goods. Automobile sales, which account for around 10% of gross domestic product (GDP), for example, fell 13.4% over one year in the first quarter.
As for inflation, in March, it only reached 0.7% over one year, its lowest level for eighteen months. If certain specific factors come into play, such as the fall in pork prices for reasons of overproduction, the weakness of inflation reflects, in theory, a weakness in demand, in contradiction with the recovery in retail sales put forward by Beijing.
“I am very surprised by these datasays Dan Wang, chief economist for the Hong Kong bank Hang Seng, in Shanghai. At the moment, the Chinese government’s priority is to restore market confidence. One of the ways to do this is to give positive signals through these official data. » Among the figures that question the most, she cites in particular the export figures.
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