Asia Economy

China GDP: Believe it or not?

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China's economic growth for the second quarter beat expectations, rising 7 percent from a year earlier, spurring some analysts to cry foul and others to say I told you so.

We sifted through the reactions to Wednesday's unexpectedly steady numbers, so you don't have to. Here's what the experts are saying:

Read More 'Hard won' China Q2 growth prompts new data questions

Adam Myers, senior market strategist at Credit Agricole, told CNBC he doesn't trust the data.

"You only have to look at commodity prices to see that there's a disconnect with what the official Chinese data is showing and what really the demand in the underlying economy is having for things like raw materials. We've been talking about that for months and still the Chinese data remains relatively solid, but all the underlying anecdotal evidence points to a much deeper slowdown in China. Put on top of that the wealth and credit effects that we've seen through the Chinese stock markets in the last couple weeks, a much larger deterioration appears to be on the cards than the official data would indicate."

Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University and Wall Street veteran, isn't taking sides on how much to trust the growth data.

"The results have been remarkably precise two quarters in a row, which you wouldn't have guessed from reading the newspaper headlines, but we did see a nominal increase in debt by at least 12.2 percent, so there has been a step up in fiscal activity or quasi-fiscal activity," he told CNBC Wednesday. "There's a lot of concern about the way growth is calculated and about the speed with which it's calculated. But to me these are sort of minor quibbles. I'm much more concerned about the debt numbers, because no matter how you look at it those are growing much too quickly."

Read More How China might have given itself a black eye

Ewen Cameron Watt, chief investment strategist at Blackrock Investment Institute, told CNBC he's got his eye on other data.

"If you really want to get the measure of what people think about China, go look at commodity prices, go look at the Aussie dollar, go look at employment in Australia. It's telling me the economy is slowing down," he said. "There's a huge oversupply because of the assumption the fixed investment boom is going to last forever."

Need slower Chinese growth: professor
Need slower Chinese growth: professor

Julian Evans-Pritchard, a China economist at Capital Economics, expects the data is overestimating the actual growth, but doesn't think that matters much.

"Actual growth is almost certainly a percentage point or two slower," he said in a note Wednesday. "The trajectory of growth in the official second-quarter figures is probably broadly correct, even if the rate of growth is not."

He'd forecast growth would come in at an above-consensus 7.4 percent, expecting the surging stock market activity would boost brokerage activity, counted as part of the service sector, and because the wider economy has been showing signs of recovery.

Suan Teck Kin, an economist at UOB, took the data at face value , raising his full-year growth forecast to 7.1 percent from 6.8 percent.

"With the upside surprise in the 2Q15 GDP report as well as stabilization in data for June, the aggressive measures from the People's Bank of China appear to be having at least some positive effect in arresting the deterioration in business activities and laying a more solid foundation ahead," he said. "Another factor that explains the surprise in 2Q15 GDP report is the shift away from manufacturing and towards services sector which is playing an increasingly large role and which is not being fully captured in most of the monthly data releases that the market is accustomed to."

Louis Kuijs, a China economist at RBS, took the GDP figures with a grain of salt, but still sees positives in the data.

"We don't have anything better than the NBS (National Bureau of Statistics) GDP number," Kuijs said. "Putting aside for a moment the question marks we have about how the data adds up, a welcome development is we can see from looking at the monthly data, the tentative pickup in growth that we had noticed before is confirmed by the June data" on industrial production.

Brian Jackson, China economist at IHS Global Insight, also noted a disconnect between various economic indicators.

"High frequency indicators improved in June, consistent with the the second-quarter GDP readings, recording three to four-month highs in 'real growth' readings for industrial output, exports, fixed-asset investment and retails sales," Jackson said in a note Wednesday."Despite those gains late in the second quarter, average growth readings over the the second quarter were considerably lower than in the first quarter."

Jackson expects government efforts to accelerate projects are starting to have an impact on data, but the stock market downturn is set to weigh on growth ahead.

"Stock trading and IPO freezes were enacted in late-June or later. That potentially creates a hole in growth exceeding half a percentage point in the second half, something the government will need to fill with even more investment spending to avoid falling below its growth targets," Jackson said.

Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management, blew the data a raspberry.

Patrick Chovanec: So, like, nobody believes these China GDP numbers but everyone's afraid to be the first to say "the emperor has no clothes"?

Patrick Chovanec: Good lord, just last week even Chinese officials were admitting Q2 GDP growth was going to come in below 7%.

At Daiwa, analysts Kevin Lai and Junjie Tang said the data set just doesn't mean much anymore.

"A number that is very close to the government's target and the market consensus will probably keep everyone happy. The government's target has been set at 7.0 percent, and we expect the government to do whatever it takes to let the world know this target is attainable. In this environment, when market sentiment is fragile externally and internally, the last thing the government wants is to surprise the market with a lower number," the analysts said in a note Wednesday. "Hence, we find the current GDP numbers have very little reference value."

They've been watching other data, such as power output, and seeing a more "worrisome" outlook.

"The twin engines (exports and investment) have stalled completely. Growth has been solely supported by household consumption, which in turn has been artificially and temporarily bolstered by the latest stock-market rally. This part of growth is obviously under threat now," they said.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1