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Earnings Tea Leaves: Signs of Life in China's Economy?

Is China ready to rev up? Two companies issuing earnings reports on Monday gave some hints that it's a possibility.

Grant Faint | The Image Bank | Getty Images

"We sure see China past the bottom, and I'm optimistic about China in 2013, actually," Doug Oberhelman, chief executive officer of Caterpillar, said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box".

China's economy has been slowing down for the last seven quarters, with the latest GDP reading coming in at 7.4 percent. While most economies would welcome such a growth rate, it is relatively anemic for China, which has historically a national average of around 10 percent. (Related: Earnings Cliff Ahead? Profit Outlooks Are 90% Negative)

It is particularly concerning to companies like Caterpillar , which sees China as a key market for its mining and earth moving equipment.

In its earnings forecast, Caterpillar saw China's economic growth improving to 8.5 percent, as construction activity and demand for commodities increases. (Related: Caterpillar Guidance 'Wrong')

Peabody Energy, a major coal producer, also reported seeing some signs of improvement in China, albeit tempered ones.

"China's coal imports remained strong in the third quarter to serve coastal demand, despite softening underlying demand in China," Peabody said in its earnings report. "China's net coal imports year to date have risen more than 60 million tons over prior-year levels … China's steel production has begun to increase in October."

Coal is key to electrical usage in the country and many economists look to its consumption as a gauge of the country's economic performance since reports from the government are sometimes mistrusted. (Related: Growth Trends for China)

Indeed China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang himself has said he favors three indicators over government growth statistics: electricity consumption, rail volume, and bank loans.

By those measures the country is still struggling. China's electricity consumption in September was only up 2.9 percent, well below the 11.7 percent logged for 2011, according to Dow Jones. Rail cargo volume declined 9.2 percent in August and new bank loans were down 11 percent in September from August.