HONG KONG - The outlook for the Chinese economy may finally be looking a little less worrisome.
Data released by the authorities in Beijing on Friday painted a picture of an economy that has lost much of the breakneck speed of previous years and that still relies on government-directed stimulus, but that started to regain some momentum last month.
"The economy is not zooming off to the moon, but it is taking off again," said David Carbon, economist at DBS Bank in Singapore. "It is not an issue of whether China will have a hard or soft landing anymore - China began to take off again three or four months ago."
Nervousness about the state of the Chinese economy - a main engine of global growth and an important market for companies like General Electric, Volkswagen and Louis Vuitton - has weighed heavily on markets worldwide for much of the past year, as it became clear that the pace of growth was slowing considerably.
Economic growth data for the first three months of 2012 underlined the severity of the slowdown. The economy expanded 8.1 percent from the quarter a year earlier. That figure, though impressive in comparison with the anemic growth of the United States, Europe and Japan, was a sharp slowdown from previous quarters and came against analysts' expectations of an increase of 8.4 percent.
China faces pressure on two fronts. Domestically, demand has weakened and the important construction and real estate sectors have slowed, in large part because of government efforts last year to curtail rapid expansion. At the same time, overseas demand for Chinese-made goods has faltered as consumers in the United States and Europe remain worried about their job prospects.
In that context, the growth data released Friday also helped cement expectations that Beijing would continue to push the economic accelerator by allowing more bank lending, freeing up spending on infrastructure and public housing projects and easing taxes selectively.
And although only a few economists now expect the central bank to deploy the sweeping tool of cutting lending rates, most say that borrowing costs will remain low for some time.
David Fuller's view China's "slow"
1Q growth of 8.1% puts its economic problems in perspective. The west should
have such worries.
If Bettina Wassener is correct, and I think she is, we should see a further improvement in China's Shanghai A-Shares performance (weekly & daily) despite the global stock market corrective phase currently underway.