If a car's fuel gauge is showing empty but the car still drives, the problem could just be a faulty instrument panel. Such is the current case for China's economy during its new normal growth period.
The Chinese economy expanded 6.9 percent last year, recording a 25-year low. The lackluster GDP figure is interpreted as a signal of an impending hard landing according to reports in foreign media, but Chinese consumers have yet to display signs of economic pinch.
"If you paid a visit to steel mills and coal mines, you will think that the Chinese economy is all doom and gloom. But you will feel quite the opposite if you visit the bustling innovation center in China's Silicon Valley, Zhongguancun, or cinemas where the seats are full," said Pan Jiancheng, deputy head with China Economic Monitoring & Analysis Center of the National Bureau of Statistics.
China is currently spreading growth among different sectors as the economy shifts from investment to consumption, Pan said.
By traditional standards, the Chinese economy is slowing, with drops in GDP growth, industrial product prices, profitability of factories and fiscal revenue. Current economic indicators for power consumption, railway cargo, bank loans and PMI reflect the development of investment-intensive sectors such as manufacturing.
But as China restructures its economy, the world needs to give more attention to consumption and the service sector, according to a report released by U.S. investment firm Jefferies Group.
"The Chinese economic structure is changing. You can't just say the economy is in bad shape based on some lackluster performance of traditional indicators," said Yu Lei, managing director with the China branch of Jeff Group.
Against the downward economic pressure, there are some obvious silver linings.
In the first 11 months of 2015, a total of 18.2 billion parcels were delivered, surging 48 percent year on year. Courier service revenue grew 34 percent to 245.6 billion yuan (37.5 billion U.S. dollars), indicating a robust e-commerce sector and rapidly expanding domestic consumption.
Entertainment consumption has also grown rapidly, with China's box office sales topping 44 billion yuan in 2015, jumping 48 percent from the previous year.
In the worst-hit secondary sector, bullet trains, new-energy vehicles and smart electronic devices are showing promise as efforts to phase out polluting, energy-intensive and non-competitive industries drag down growth.
The business climate index for China's small and medium-sized enterprises, created by search engine Baidu and based on big data, has been improving for nearly a year amid government efforts to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.
Consumption, which contributed 66.4 percent to the country's GDP last year, will remain a stronger force driving economic growth this year as effects of the country's supply-side reform policies start to pay off, the Ministry of Commerce said last week.
The Jefferies Group suggested adding new indicators for the Chinese economy that include express deliveries, ATM cash withdrawals, cinema box office revenue and flight distance of civil aviation, as they reflect growth conditions of rising engines of e-commerce, entertainment and tourism.
A more sophisticated approach is needed to observe economic changes such as recording power consumption, taxation and employment conditions for specific sectors, as well as business growth of professional third-party service providers such as law firms, accounting agencies and advertisement companies, said Pan.
"These are lively indicators to reflect the dynamic changes of China's economy, especially its economic restructuring, and it's time to update the instrument panel and display economic wellbeing," he said.