Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

China's year-end economic data dump presented an ambiguous picture of the world's second-largest economy that analysts chose to paint in various ways by cherry picking data points.

The big picture: When taken as a whole, the data reflects an economy that could be slowing or could be slowly turning from one driven by high-flying export growth to one sustained by a consumer-focused, service sector that Chinese government officials have declared they want.

What they're saying: Some have been ringing the alarm of an economic slowdown in China, pointing to historically weak readings.

  • China's economy expanded 6.6% in 2018 — the slowest annual pace the country has seen since 1990.
  • In the fourth quarter, GDP growth came in at 6.4% year-over-year, the slowest since 2009.

China's government has long been accused of padding the numbers on economic data, and some expect that weak readings like these are proof that the country's real economy is actually growing much more slowly.

Yes, but: Also included in the data dump are a collection of strong data releases that don't fit the falling dragon motif.

  • China's industrial output rose 5.7% year-over-year in December, more than the 5.3% economists were expecting.
  • Fixed asset investment rose 5.9% year-over-year, nearly matching economists' predictions of 6%.
  • Retail sales data rose 8.2% in December, up from November's 8.1% gain.
  • Production in high-tech industries, strategic emerging industries and equipment manufacturing expanded 11.7%, 8.9% and 8.1%, respectively.

What to watch: For U.S. businesses, a clearer picture of what's happening could come this week when companies with significant revenue from China — including Starbucks, Wynn Resorts and Ford — report quarterly results.

Go deeper: Other companies are feeling the heat in China's slowing market

Go deeper

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Tim Scott says Trump "misspoke" when he told Proud Boys to "stand by"

Photo: Bonnie Cash/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday that he believes President Trump "misspoke" when he told the far-right "Proud Boys" group to "stand back and stand by" in response to a question about condemning white supremacy at the first presidential debate.

Catch up quick: Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump on Tuesday, "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?" Trump asked who specifically he should condemn, and then responded, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left."

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The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it plans to implement changes to rules for the remaining debates, after Tuesday night's head-to-head between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was practically incoherent for most of the night.

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President Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he doesn't know who the Proud Boys are, after saying at the presidential debate last night that the far-right group should "stand back and stand by" in response to a question asking him to condemn white supremacists.

Why it matters: The comments set off outrage and calls for clarification from a number of Republican senators. After being asked several times on Wednesday whether he will condemn white supremacy, Trump responded, "I have always denounced any form — any form of any of that, you have to denounce. But I also — Joe Biden has to say something about antifa."

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