China´s economy picked up steam in 2017, and while there´s much scepticism about the official data coming out the country, the recent upturn could be even stronger than the figures suggest.
Stronger, because China may well have understated the growth figures of the prior couple of years.
Official Chinese data released on Thursday showed the economy had expanded by 6.9% in 2017, a pick up from the 6.7% of growth registered for 2016.
Year on year, the economy grew 6.8% in the fourth quarter of 2017, ahead of market expectations of 6.7%.
While ending on a high note over the final three months of the year, the calendar year growth rate of 6.9% is also well ahead of the Chinese government´s official annual growth target of 6.5%.
Anecdotal evidence points to a much sharper pick up in Chinese growth in 2017. Look no further than the key commodity markets such as copper for signs of this, bearing out what many analysts have long suspected.
The Chinese authorities appear to favour smoothing the statistics, overstating the figures in bad years, and understating them in good ones.
Copper, for instance, of which China is the primary consumer, has jumped from $2.2 per pound to $3.2 per pound over the past 18 months, an increase of 45%. A good proportion of that rise took place in the second half of 2017.
Much of the recent increase in oil prices has also been put down to strengthening demand from China.
Brent crude is testing the $70 per barrel mark, having traded at just $48 per barrel last July.
The official figures released by the Chinese authorities pointed to strengthening global trade as a major reason for the improvement in 2017.
Net exports contributed 0.6% to overall growth, the biggest contribution since 2008 as a strengthening global economy boosted international trade.
This is also linked to the major upturn in demand for key industrial commodities, as China sucks in more raw materials to put to work in a busier manufacturing sector.
There was another sign of strength in data released on the Chinese property market, with growth in the cost of new housing in China accelerating for the first time in 13 months in December.
Official data showed the average of new housing prices across 70 major Chinese cities rose 5.3% year on year in December.
It marks the first time Chinese property prices have picked up since November 2016, when they peaked at a 12.6% rate of growth.
Nevertheless, there is still much caution over the outlook in China, with economists polled by Reuters projecting China's economy to grow by 6.5% in 2018.
While this would be in line with the government´s growth target, it would mark a deceleration from the pace of growth seen in 2017.
So why the caution, just when things appear to be getting better?
Economists at Focus Economics reckon there will be sure signs of deceleration in 2018 as the government implements policies to rebalance China´s economic model.
Focus points to the environmental and pollution controls that were oft cited for much of 2017 as the government generally looks to clean up the country´s act.
There´s also a big focus on deleveraging the economy and generally taming speculation, especially in the property market.
More recently, however, there´s also been much talk of the Chinese authorities cracking down on bitcoin and other cryptocurrency related activity in the country.
“Tighter regulation in the property market and stricter environmental regulations will exert downward pressure on growth,” says Focus.
Focus is slightly more downbeat on the prospects for 2018 than the average highlighted by the Reuters poll.
It expects the economy to grow by 6.4% in 2018. Even more notable, however, is its prediction for 2019. Focus sees Chinese growth declining even further, to hit 6.2%.
If true, this sort of slowdown is bound to have a big impact on commodity markets that are especially sensitive to Chinese demand, including the likes of copper.
The impact of a pronounced Chinese slowdown would likely be felt much further. China has become an increasingly important driver of global blue-chip earnings.
So, if you´ve been wondering how the current bull market in global stocks will end, and what will be the catalyst, this could well be it.
Weaker performance from Chinese and Hong Kong-listed corporations would likely quickly spread, hitting stock markets around the Asia region and the rest of the world, just at a time when global stocks have been hitting ever record highs.
On the other hand, perhaps the widely expected acceleration in global growth for 2018 will be enough to keep the Chinese juggernaut moving forward.
A wild card this year is likely to be the impact of President Trump´s tax reforms on the US economy and global growth, as $1.5tn in tax cuts work their way through the system.
This though, could just be a counterweight to the ongoing withdrawal of monetary easing measures around the world, as global central banks continue to withdraw stimulus.
The US Federal Reserve is expected to hike interest on no less than three occasions in 2018, at least matching the record of rate tightening seen in 2017.