2014年6月7日 星期六

Q&A: Digging Into China’s Distorted Data 專家解讀中國經濟數據背后玄機

Q&A: Digging Into China’s Distorted Data

Chinese economic indicators can be among the most influential of news headlines, moving markets worth trillions of dollars in the blink of an eye. They also can be among the least reliable. 

When China's exports recorded sharp falls in February and March of this year, it seemed the world's second-largest economy was experiencing a sudden loss of momentum -- perhaps the sort of 'hard landing' that's among global policy makers' worst-case scenarios. 

In fact, it was nothing of the sort: It simply reflected a rampant problem of fake invoicing a year earlier, when companies who saw the yuan as a sure bet to appreciate sought to get money into the country around Beijing's strict capital controls. The numbers this year -- after authorities cracked down on the practice -- paled by comparison. 

Private estimates on exports proliferated, trying to get a handle on what this key sector was really saying about the health of China's economy. The true figure? Take your pick.

Economic data anywhere carry distortions and imprecisions. But the problem is magnified in China, both by the sheer size of the economy and by the myriad of reasons that millions of officials at various levels of the Communist Party and Chinese society might have to misrepresent the facts -- ranging from rewards for breakneck growth to an imperial tradition of deception among bureaucrats. 

Matthew Crabbe has spent a lifetime trying to understand what's really going on in China. His interest dates a Chinese theme at the 1984 theater festival in his native Edinburgh, Scotland, and continued when -- out of school and out of work -- he began learning Mandarin from a second-hand textbook. 

Twenty years ago Mr. Crabbe helped research firm Euromonitor compose its first reports on China's billion-strong consumer market. In 1997 he and a friend formed their own research company, Access Asia, which they sold in 2011 to Mintel Group Ltd. 

Today Mr. Crabbe, 46, is Mintel's Asia-Pacific research director, based in Kuala Lumpur. His book, 'Myth-Busting China's Numbers: Understanding and Using China's Statistics,' published last month by Palgrave Macmillan, looks at two decades of lessons learned navigating the world of Chinese economic and corporate numbers. 

Understanding China is 'more about understanding the reasons why statistics are collected and published, what numbers are not published and why, and what the published figures actually represent,' Mr. Crabbe writes in the introduction to 'Myth-Busting.' 'As China's economic star continues to rise, the number of people who need to understand this also rises.' 

A redacted version of our telephone interview follows: 

Q: You've been following China, and particularly Chinese consumers, for 20 years. How has the nature of the work changed in that time? 

A: When I started, mostly I was just sort of looking around at what people were buying, going to shops, looking to see what people were really doing. You couldn't do questionnaires back then because it was still politically sensitive, you had to observe and make pretty big judgments about what was really going on. At the time, the amount of information on markets in China was pretty scarce, it was very difficult to compile data -- which are the biggest companies, what are they producing -- it was tough. Things have certainly improved on that side, there's a lot more information now. 

Q: There's a lot more information but as you point out in your book, it's not always reliable. 

A: There are an awful lot of problems. There are three main things that people get wrong when they look at markets in China. First, they don't scrutinize the definitions that are used. People talking about markets are using all kinds of different definitions. 

Second, they don't look at the methodology behind the information being produced, and the limitations. When you're talking about any emerging market, there are going to be discrepancies in the information, things just aren't well organized. When you're talking about China, it's so big that those discrepancies get magnified. 

Third, you have to look at the reason why any piece of information is produced, whether by governments or trade associations or companies -- they all have a political motive. You have to read between the lines. You can't take any number at face value. 

Q: Is it your sense that the government is willfully manipulating the data, or do they not have accurate information themselves? 

A: A lot of people point the finger at the Chinese government and say they're being deceptive in the data they put out. I don't think they are, I don't think it's in the Chinese government's interest to have bad data; they have to deal with whatever they get, and if the data isn't good it makes it harder for them to work out their economic policy, to work out their collection of taxes and so on. 

Look at tax avoidance: Companies are sort of lining their pockets when they should be lining the coffers of government, which would then help pay for social programs that are sorely needed. So the anti-corruption drive is not just to root out corruption, it will also hopefully reduce the deception and you'll get better data. 

It's easy to point a finger at the NBS [National Bureau of Statistics] and laugh at them, but given the fact that it's a rapidly emerging economy and the size of the economy, it's very difficult for them to keep up. Given all the problems they're probably doing a pretty good job of it. And they're getting better. 

Q: Is faulty data more of a problem in China than in other emerging markets? 

A: It's not just China, I think it applies to all emerging markets. But I think what's significant about China is that because it's so big the discrepancy gets amplified, and because it's so big everyone wants to know about it, the information about China is so important, not just to China but to the global economy. Especially as China shifts to more of a domestic-consumption economy, understanding the Chinese consumer becomes much more important. So understanding the data about those markets becomes crucial. 

Q: How can a company doing business in China adjust? How can you make business plans and strategy with such poor information? 

A: Use as many different sources as possible, and not just take the easy route of taking market reports by themselves and government data by itself. You need to cross-reference with as many different sources as possible to try to reach a consensus. And be a stickler on the definitions, the methodology of the research -- you have to apply forensic due diligence, if you like. It's really important that companies spread their risk by using as many different sources as possible and apply scrutiny to as many different sources as they can. 

Q: Do you find that corporate executives coming to do business in China are well-equipped to deal with this environment? 

A: Nowadays foreigners doing business in China are much better informed than they used to be. But you still hear about nightmare stories. Caterpillar bought a mining equipment company in China [ERA Mining Machinery and its Siwei Mechanical & Electrical Equipment Manufacturing Co. division, a 2012 deal where Caterpillar ultimately had to write off $580 million] and it was essentially a bogus company -- it's an example of a continuing lack of forensic due diligence. 

Generally speaking I think people are getting savvier, but there's still a lot more improvement that can be made. Foreign businesses really need to work harder to understand the market that they're dealing with. One of the reasons for me doing the book is that I continued to see the problems people are dealing with on a personal level. I wanted to put the book out as a warning guide, if you like. 

Q: Do you expect you'll face any repercussions in China for publishing a book like this? 

A: Everything I write about is openly discussed in the Chinese media. A lot of what I reference is from Chinese media. They're talking about these issues all the time. 

Michael S. Arnold 
2014年 06月 05日 07:29







克拉布(Matthew Crabbe)用了畢生時間試圖瞭解中國到底發生了什麼。他對中國的興趣可追溯至1984年在他家鄉蘇格蘭愛丁堡舉行的戲劇節上的一個中國主題。克拉布開始通過一本二手教材學習普通話,從而保持了對中國的興趣。

克拉布在20年前幫助研究公司Euromonitor撰寫了第一份關於中國規模達10多億美元的消費市場的報告。在1997年,克拉布和一位朋友成立了一家名為Access Asia的研究公司。克拉布和朋友在2011年將這家公司賣給了英敏特(Mintel Group Ltd.)。

現年46歲的克拉布目前擔任英敏特亞太區研究總監。Palgrave Macmillan上月出版了克拉布的著作《打破中國數字神話:瞭解和利用中國的數據》(Myth-Busting China's Numbers: Understanding and Using China's Statistics)。該書重點介紹了克拉布20年來研究中國經濟和公司數據所總結的經驗。


















答:現時今日,來中國做生意的外國人對於情況的瞭解已經遠遠好於過去,但是仍然能夠聽到一些壞消息。卡特彼勒公司(Caterpillar Inc., CAT) 曾於2012年收購一家中國礦業設備公司,即年代煤礦機電設備制造有限公司(ERA Mining Machinery Ltd.)及其旗下分支機構四維機電設備製造有限公司(Siwei Mechanical & Electrical Equipment Manufacturing Co.)。但是由於這項交易,卡特彼勒最後減值5.8億美元,而其收購的這家公司本質上其實可以算得上一家皮包公司。卡特彼勒的失敗顯示出,此類交易一直缺乏法律上的盡職調查。




Michael S. Arnold