China's GDP Growth May be Understated
Concerns about the quality of China’s official GDP statistics have been a perennial question in understanding its economic dynamics. We use data on satellite-recorded nighttime lights as an independent benchmark for comparing various published indicators of the state of the Chinese economy. Using the methodology of Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin (2016a and b), we exploit nighttime lights to compute the optimal weights for various Chinese economic indicators in a best unbiased predictor of Chinese growth rates. Our computations of Chinese growth based on optimal weightings of various combinations of economic indicators provide evidence against the hypothesis that the Chinese economy contracted precipitously in late 2015, and are consistent with the rate of Chinese growth being higher than is reported in the official statistics.
We are very grateful to Michelle Jiang, Lauren Price and Rachel Schuh for superb research assistance. This paper reflects solely the opinions of the authors and not necessarily of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Federal Reserve System, or the National Bureau of Economic Research.