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China GDP Likely Grew by 13% in December: O'Neill

China's economy likely grew by 13 percent in the last month of 2009 and market fears that the country is manipulating the data are exaggerated, Jim O'Neill, head of global economic research at Goldman Sachs told CNBC Tuesday.

"Many observers that don't really follow China closely simply don't accept that an economy where the government directs a lot of the big decisions can succeed," O'Neill told "Worldwide Exchange."

"We used to not trust Chinese data ourselves" and this is why Goldman Sachs has computed its own Chinese data for years, he added.

"According to our own proprietary Chinese GDP indicator, in December Chinese growth could have been 13 percent."

The Goldman Sachs China Activity Index shows a strong V-shaped recovery, its growth reaching 13.1 percent year-on-year in December.

The recent reading, together with the latest purchasing managers index reading, "suggests actual (gross domestic product) growth was probably in the 13 percent area towards the end of 2009," O'Neill said in a research note.

Shanghai Skyline
AP
Shanghai Skyline

According to National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Zhang Xiaoqiang, China's economy is expected to have expanded by 8.5 percent in 2009, but O'Neill said he thinks "the actual data is stronger" than the official forecast.

Bubble Fears Overblown?

Another analyst still expressed skepticism about Chinese data in general, even if the GDP figure may be underestimated.

"I think there are valid concerns out there with regards to economic data in China," Clive McDonnell, a regional strategist at BNP Paribas Securities, said.

"One is the issue of inflation. China releases its monthly inflation data before the end of the month, and that does raise a bit of skepticism there," he said, pointing out also that although the country reports car sales rises in the double digits, gasoline sales increase by only 2 to 3 percent.

O'Neill said fears of asset bubbles in China because of the country's rapid growth and lax fiscal and monetary conditions are "completely overblown." He also pointed out that the Chinese stock market has not made a new high since August.

For investors who do not know the country very well, he recommends investing in international companies with a presence there.

"I think the interesting way to approach this is … through people like Unilever and a lot of these classic names who are taking a lot of this risk for you," O'Neill said.

Contact Europe: Economy

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