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Big Data Lens on China's Economy (Mostly) Affirms Official Stats

A growing universe of big data offers an increasingly complete alternative view on China's economy, and it's not massively different than the official statistics. 

That's according to a new report by Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Justin Jimenez, who compared National Bureau of Statistics numbers with those generated from the vast amounts of data and information collected by businesses and governments.

The new gauges affirm that manufacturing is weak, real estate is better, auto sales and online consumption are robust, but malls and tourism are suffering and employment is slipping as old industries shed workers, Orlik and Jimenez wrote. For industrial, property, autos and employment, they said the picture is similar to official data, while for some aspects of consumption, big data are more negative.

"Big data provide an increasingly comprehensive and timely lens" on the world’s second-largest economy, the analysts wrote, adding a caveat that such indicators should be interpreted with caution. "In most cases the historical series are short, which makes it harder to distinguish seasonal noise from cyclical signal. In some cases, the series say as much about structural shifts in the economy as they do about the cycle -- for example, the shift to online shopping."