'Crisis' to 'crash': Google searches show China economy's transition in 2015

A man carrying a kite in the shape of the Chinese national flag walking along the Bund in Shanghai.
A man carrying a kite in the shape of the Chinese national flag walking along the Bund in Shanghai.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) -  To get a flavour of the changing sentiment on China's economy, look no further than web searches made on Google.

In 2014, search interest reflected the nation's rising prowess, with phrases such as "China largest economy", "China number 1 economy" and "China overtakes US economy", according to data provided by the search engine giant. There were negative searches too, reflecting a slowdown already underway, but most queries were upbeat.

That changed over 2015.

After a US$5 trillion (S$7.06 trillion) stock market rout and scant sign of any economic turnaround, web surfers increasingly googled terms like "China economy collapse", "China economy crash" and "China economy crisis".

The sampling of searches isn't meant to be scientific and through the years the search terms can vary. But overall, it captures how the global mood has fluctuated on the world's second-largest economy.

In January, top policymakers were preaching a message that the slowdown was under control. By mid-year, credibility had been dented by a clumsy response to the summer stock market meltdown. Then came the sudden move to devalue the yuan in August that shook emerging market assets.

The search results exclude neutral searches such as "China economy" and repeat searches that are phrased differently. Meantime, searches on the People's Bank of China fell returned to a peak hit in 2011, while Web surfers seeking information on the yuan just keep on rising.

Whether the search interest is any kind of leading indicator, or just a lagging reflection of Web interest, is unclear. Either way, China bulls will no doubt be hoping more browsers enter "China economic recovery" in their search boxes than "China hard landing" in 2016.