This post is a little late because…for once…I had to actually write a report about it. Be that as it may, the numbers were, to put it mildly, rather shocking (log annual change; log quarterly change seasonally adjusted and annualised):
Real GDP hit 6.4% in percentage terms on the year, but zoomed 8.5% SAAR from the previous quarter – that’s the fastest expansion since 4Q2009. That’s way, way above the estimates generated by my preferred forecast model (about 5.4%), and even almost past the 95% confidence interval range forecast. The only model I track that came really close was – of all things – a naive trend model with seasonal factors, which predicted 6.5%. Sometimes simple is best.
Here’s the puzzler, though, at least from the growth perspective (log annual changes):
Growth in every demand category actually fell, except for exports where the rate of decrease slowed. Talk about irony! As Hafiz points out, faster growth in 4Q2012 came not from stronger growth overall, but but because the trade numbers were less bad.
This is really a numbers game however, and a little closer inspection suggests demand strength is still there, though not quite so obvious. 4Q2012 growth on the domestic demand side suffers less because there was less growth, but because growth in 3Q2012 (or 2Q2012 for that matter) was that much stronger but was offset by much worse trade numbers. This is particularly true in imports, which in 4Q dropped in real terms for the first time since the 2009 recession.
Funnily enough, that part actually worries me because of the importance of imported inputs for future production. Checking the breakdown of imports confirms the notion – intermediate goods imports growth fell off a cliff at the end of the year (-17.4% in December). We could be seeing the impact of CNY here, though the scale of the drop is highly unusual. As such, I’m not too sanguine on growth in 1Q this year.
Getting back to the 4Q numbers, the supply side of the economy is a lot less ambiguous (log annual changes):
Here, apart from a slowdown in services, there’s hardly looks to be anything to be concerned over. I don’t count the slowdown in construction here, because it’s a really small sector and growth is really coming off the stratosphere.
Mining and manufacturing both posted growth surprises – the former in fact posted its fastest growth since early 2007. That suggests oil & gas might have finally overcome the production constraints that bedevilled the sector over the past five years.
Manufacturing too showed faster growth, somewhat surprising given the weakness of the external sector. To be fair, much of the growth is coming from production for domestic use like non-metallic minerals, but also includes transport machinery (AKA cars). Higher mining output also helped, because of greater supply for oil refining, and for chemical and plastics production. The only area that actually regressed was in textiles.
I don’t think at this stage that the case for higher interest rates has been bolstered however. While real GDP growth has accelerated, nominal GDP has not (log annual changes):
That suggests that the GDP deflator (i.e. overall inflation) is either flat or also slowing – the DOS report shows a sharp drop in agriculture prices in 2H2012, and effective price stability in all other sectors. For the year, growth in the Deflator was actually flat compared to 2011. That may be one reason why people aren’t perceiving the higher real output (and incomes) on the ground.
Overall however, this was a nice send-off for 2012.
4Q2012 National Accounts report from the Department of Statistics