Peter Cai July 13, 2012
China's much-anticipated second-quarter GDP growth figures have been released today, as you no doubt know.
You may also be aware that economists and market commentators had expected the numbers to be rather disappointing. (Or at least, they will match low expectations).
However, if you were keen to find out that magic growth number before its public release, there were couple of options available to you.
For one thing, there's often an early leak. Today it came from cnstock.com, which you can read here if your Mandarin is pretty good. Bloomberg, for instance, sent headlines on the cnstock.com GDP figures about six minutes before the formal release.
Needless to say, markets were already on the move after the "pre-release" headlines, with copper among the commodities rising. Within minutes of the official numbers hitting screen around the world, the Aussie dollar was up about one-third of a US cent while the Aussie sharemarket got a boost - short-lived, perhaps - to the tune of about $8 billion.
Death by banquet
Alternatively, you can either get yourself a psychic octopus or find it out from someone who knows these numbers (hints: officials from the central bank or the bureau of statistics), usually over an expensive banquet or five.
The Chinese government got really concerned in the last few years over the remarkable ability of some investment banks and media outlets to predict the key economic figures such as GDP, CPI, and import and export figures pretty much spot on before their public release.
(Many years ago, special "early" services could be subscribed to from the stats bureau - complete with receipts - although that little earner got wound up in a hurry. Xinjiang exile probably awaited the geniuses behind the venture.)
Regulatory agencies also noticed suspicious movements in the sharemarket before important central bank interest rate announcements.
An investigation was launched and resulted in the arrest and conviction of central bank and bureau of statistics officials and investment bankers.
The investigation reveals some tantalising details about the trade in classified economic data.
“A set of official economic data can fetch you anywhere between 400,000 and 500,000 yuan (between $60,000 and $70,000),” an unnamed persecutor told Chinese media.
The deputy head of the Chinese state secrets protection agency said in an interview that economic officials were invited to give so-called lectures at investment banks and trading houses for very handsome fees.
Some officials didn't even bother with such cover and chose to engage directly in insider trading with banks, he said.
Other Chinese media reports that bankers are happy to pay five-figure fees just to have dinner with officials who have access to sensitive economic data and information.
Bankers and brokers use this illegally obtained data to trade shares before their public release. The CPI figure is allegedly the most traded data, according to the Chinese media - although the sinking inflation rate means that number is less interesting than it once was.
Meanwhile, in Australia, BusinessDay understands that only selected Australian Treasury and Reserve Bank officials are briefed about the market moving economic data one night before its release by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.