China Statistics Official Steps Down on Suspicion of Leaking Economic Data

An official from China’s statistics office is under investigation for leaking economic indicators as the world’s fastest-growing major economy seeks to curb early disclosure of market-moving data.

One male official is involved in the probe, Liu Guoning, a press officer for the National Bureau of Statistics, said today by phone, declining to name the person. Officials from the bureau and central bank left their posts and may face criminal charges relating to data leaks, the Economic Information Daily, a newspaper run by the government’s Xinhua News Agency, reported earlier on its website, citing an unidentified person.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, is battling to curtail selective disclosure that can disrupt markets and give an advantage to investors with early access. Numbers for China’s consumer price index and economic growth rate regularly circulated in the market and media in the days before the official releases over the past year.

The data leakage “has been quite embarrassing for the government, so it seems they are making a good effort to crack down on that,” said Alaistair Chan, a Sydney-based economist with Moody’s Economy.com. “This should be welcome by the public, though some of the traders may not like it.”

A press officer at the People’s Bank of China said he couldn’t comment immediately.

China’s statistics bureau said April 15 it condemned leaks of economic data and those responsible will be punished. The nation’s first-quarter growth figure and other monthly economic data including the inflation rate were reported a day before the official release.

‘Data Corruption’

Phoenix TV’s website reported 10 economic indicators on April 14, citing an unidentified source. Figures released afterwards by China’s central bank and the National Bureau of Statistics matched nine of the numbers.

An accurate reading for the consumer price index was circulated in the market and press reports before release for five of six months through April. It’s become one of the most sought-after numbers because of China’s battle to curb inflation, which jumped to a 32-month high in March.

Ye Qing, deputy head of the statistics bureau in Hubei province, said he was “shocked” by today’s report in the Economic Information Daily.

“This is data corruption,” he said in a phone interview. “Data leaking violates the statistics law and leaves the bureau with a bad reputation.”

Economic indicators published by the agency include gross domestic product, released quarterly, as well as monthly industrial production and the producer price index.

System Improvements

Government departments, institutions and individuals have a responsibility to keep state secrets, Sheng Laiyun, a spokesman for the statistics, said at an April 15 briefing. The bureau is studying ways to improve the system, including shortening the time-frame between production of the information and its release so as to reduce risks, Sheng said.

In June last year, Reuters reported figures for consumer prices, exports and new loans, which it said were divulged by an unidentified government official at an investor conference. Reuters cited three people who attended the event without publishing their names. Export and new loan data are released by other government bodies.

Stocks Rally

The report spurred the biggest gain in the Shanghai Composite Index in two weeks and set off a stock rally from Europe to the U.S. Official releases later matched or were close to the numbers. The National Bureau of Statistics said at the time it would investigate the leak.

“Improving controls on data releases is good news for fair market competition,” Li Cui, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in Hong Kong, said today. China is “determined” to avoid future data leaks as they “undermine professional efforts and add confusion to the market,” Cui said.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Melissa Pozsgay at mpozsgay@bloomberg.net

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