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One Guess About China’s Ho-Hum Economic Start to 2016

First Qingdao-Central Asia Freight Train In Qingdao, ChinaFirst Qingdao-Central Asia Freight Train In Qingdao, China
Freight volumes in China slowed sharply to start the year.Photograph by Barcroft Media via Getty Images

China’s economy didn’t undergo any drastic changes in the first two months of the year.

That’s the estimate of a research firm that’s long been in the game of trying to predicts China’s economic growth using measures besides the official statistics.

Capital Economics, based in London, has issued its China Activity Proxy since 2009. The first two months of 2016 showed China’s economy growing at a rate of 4.1%, according to its index, which was composed of mixed inputs. Property construction was stable and electricity output growth climbed back into positive territory for the two months. But consumer travel was disappointing, and domestic freight volumes slowed dramatically.

The total takeaway was mostly unsatisfying.

“The relative stability of growth in recent months ought to assuage fears that China is entering a deeper downturn,” wrote Capital Economic’s Julian Evans-Pritchard. “That said, the lack of a pick-up in activity is disappointing, particularly given that the sharp slowdown in early 2015 will have provided a more flattering base for comparison.”

To bears, the economy held on much stronger then they had been betting. To bulls, there wasn’t much to cheer about: China’s slogging through subpar growth even with broadly loosening monetary and fiscal policy.

By summer, if the economy keeps limping along at a 4% growth clip, the bears will have won.