A key indicator of China's economic conditions is the "excess export growth". The idea is to see by how much the rate of export growth exceeds the GDP growth. Historically exports grew at a much faster pace than the GDP. During the 08-09 recession however, the GDP rate significantly outpaced exports. Rather than the output growth being fueled by exports, it was financed via the injection of government stimulus.
The figures from January of this year show that China's excess export growth is once again in the negative territory not seen since 2009.
|China's export growth minus the GDP growth|
Some will argue that with poor export growth, the economy will be fueled by domestic demand. That is true to a point, but if this lag continues, stimulus will be needed to finance further growth. The economy is now materially larger than it was in 08 and the absolute dollars needed for stimulus will be that much larger as well.
Other signs of economic growth stability in China had been iron ore prices and coal imports, both of which moved lower recently (hat tip Greg Merrill). Once the seasonal distortions of the early Lunar New Year holiday have passed, the level of this slowdown will become clear.