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China’s unprecedented delay in GDP fuels worries about growth

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China delayed the publication of third-quarter gross domestic product data a day before the report was scheduled for release, fuelling investor uncertainty and concerns about the economy’s slowdown.

The National Bureau of Statistics updated its release schedule on Monday, with the dates for major economic indicators due this week marked as “delayed.” It didn’t give a reason for the delay and provided no information about a new publication date.

A previous schedule had the data planned for release at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Indicators that were delayed include quarterly GDP as well as the monthly industrial output, energy production, fixed-asset investment, property investment and sales, retail sales and home prices. Official trade figures also weren’t released last week.

The unprecedented delay in GDP caught investors off-guard and added to uncertainty about the economy’s outlook. While economists polled by Bloomberg had expected a rebound in China’s third-quarter GDP to 3.3% after near-zero growth in the April-June period, the recovery remains fragile as Covid restrictions and a property slump curb consumer and business spending.

“This could cause some uncertainties and cautiousness among investors in the absence of explanation for such an unusual delay,” said Ken Cheung, chief Asia FX strategist at Mizuho Bank.

The economic data were due to be released during the Communist Party’s crucial party congress, in which President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a third term in power. Thousands of government officials are gathered in Beijing for the twice-a-decade event.

Even so, the postponement in economic data releases is extremely rare. During the previous party congress in 2017, the NBS published the GDP figures at a briefing as scheduled.

“The delay could spur some concerns that the data could underperform but for now, I think markets are accustomed to the weak growth story and focus will still revolve around any follow-up actions from the Party Congress,” said Jun Rong Yeap, market strategist at IG Asia Pte.

Government officials have sought to downplay concerns about the state of the Chinese economy. Zhao Chenxin, a deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, the top economic-planning agency, said at a press briefing earlier Monday that the economy “rebounded significantly in the third quarter.” Main economic indicators for the industrial and services sectors as well as data for investment and consumption continued to improve, he said.

China’s General Administration of Customs also didn’t publish monthly trade data that were scheduled for release on October 14. The agency didn’t provide any reason for the delay.

“My guess is they want to avoid potential distractions from the Congress. I would say now is a more politically sensitive time, given the economy and the expected reappointment of Xi for a third term,” according to Duncan Wrigley, chief China economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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