Caixin
Apr 24, 2019 08:47 PM
ECONOMY

Local Governments Report Upbeat Economic Data

Some regions have been forced to come clean about inflating their economic data in recent years. Photo: IC
Some regions have been forced to come clean about inflating their economic data in recent years. Photo: IC

*Five of the 23 regions that have shared economic data by Wednesday fell short of their full-year growth targets in the first quarter, while 18 were on track to hit or exceed them

*While the economic stabilization signaled by these figures track with national figures released recently, doubts remain about the reliability of regional economic data

(Beijing) — Most of China’s provincial-level regions were tracking to meet or beat their full year growth targets in the first quarter, while five failed to keep pace.

It’s the latest sign downward pressure on China’s economy is generally easing.

Of 23 provincial-level regions that posted regional gross domestic product (GDP) growth data for the first quarter by Wednesday, 18 met or beat annual targets, including the municipalities of Tianjin and Chongqing.

However, the provinces of Hainan, Qinghai and Shaanxi, as well as the Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions, failed to do so.

While the numbers signal stabilizing conditions broadly in line with national figures, questions have previously been raised over the veracity of local government economic data. Recent years have brought a spate of admissions of inflated fiscal revenue, industrial output and GDP figures as economic growth has slowed.

This year the northern port municipality of Tianjin — whose economy grew 3.6% last year, the lowest among the 31 provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland — reported growth of 4.5% for the first quarter. That met the full-year target it had set in this year’s government work report.

Tianjin’s faster economic growth was mainly driven by investment and local government efforts to support the private sector, Chu Liping, a deputy head of Tianjin’s statistics bureau, said in a release (link in Chinese) Monday.

The municipality’s fixed-asset investment grew 26.1% year-on-year in the first quarter, official data showed (link in Chinese), picking up significantly from a 25.6% decline (link in Chinese) in the same period last year. Investment in real estate development and government-led infrastructure projects rose 27.4% and 19.1% year-on-year, respectively, both outperforming the same period last year.

Yet Tianjin’s statistics bureau also warned (link in Chinese) of both sluggish consumption and export demand dragging on the local economy. Tianjin’s retail sales, which include spending by government, businesses and households, declined 2.6% year-on-year in the first quarter, steeper than a 2.3% drop between January and February, according to official figures compiled by data provider CEIC.

The southwestern municipality of Chongqing — whose economic growth saw the sharpest drop of any region last year to 6% from 9.3% in 2017 — reported stabilized growth of 6% in the first quarter of this year, official data showed (link in Chinese) Friday. The reading is in line with its full-year target.

The southern island province of Hainan posted 5.5% growth for the first quarter, official data showed (link in Chinese) Thursday, a reading well below the full-year target range of 7% to 7.5%.

The tropical tourist province’s economy has been suffering from a constrained property market since April 2018, when it launched tight controls over the sector to curb rising home prices. In the first quarter of this year, investment in the province’s property development declined 34.6% year-on-year, compared with 16.4% growth (link in Chinese) in the same period of 2018.

Hainan is becoming less dependent on the property industry, said Wang Yuan, a deputy head of Hainan’s statistics bureau at a press briefing (link in Chinese) on Thursday. Excluding the effect of the property industry, Hainan’s regional GDP growth for the first quarter would be one percentage point higher than it was, he said.

China’s economy grew 6.4% in the first quarter of this year, beating analysts’ median expectation of a 6.3% rise, snapping a slowing streak in the past three consecutive quarters.

In recent years, those that have admitted cooking the books include the northeastern province of Liaoning, the northern region of Inner Mongolia and Tianjin's special economic zone of Binhai, which last year revised its 2016 GDP data down by more than a third.

Some localities have been forced to come clean after investigators were dispatched by the central government to monitor their activities, while others have been caught up in an ongoing overhaul of the country’s statistical system.

Contact reporter Liu Jiefei (jiefeiliu@caixin.com)

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