It now seems very likely that China's economy will meet or exceed Beijing's 7.5% growth target for 2013. For President Xi Jinping, still in his first year of office, this is very good news.
At the same time, heading into a pivotal meeting of the Communist Party, the country's policy landscape is unusually unsettled. Clarity on three key items -- local debt, economic reform plans and the Shanghai Free Trade Zone -- would go a long way toward reducing economic uncertainty in the Middle Kingdom.
Can China get its local debt under control?
China's credit boom, launched to support the economy after the 2008 financial crisis, has saddled unworthy businesses with large loans, fueled the country's shadow banking system and put local governments on the hook for billions.
Here's the problem: Nobody knows exactly how much debt China's local governments have soaked up. Not even Beijing.
Economists surveyed by CNNMoney earlier this month estimated debt levels reached 14.1 trillion yuan to 19.7 trillion yuan by the end of last year, or roughly one-third of the country's gross domestic product. Those estimates put local debt at nearly double what it was three years ago, when China last conducted a nationwide debt audit.
Economists are awaiting the most recent results from another debt audit launched in July, expected to be announced sometime in November. The audit should provide a sense of just how big the problem is -- and just how hard of a credit crackdown is needed.
Will November be a turning point for economic reform?
The general consensus among China analysts is that President Xi could prove to be a leader in the mold of Deng Xiaoping -- a reformer who emphasized economic improvements over ideology.
That theory will be put to the test in November, when the Communist Party holds its third party plenum. The meeting is widely expected to produce a framework for reform.
"For many China observers and market participants, this is the 'make or break' moment," said UBS economist Tao Wang. "If the new government does not launch sweeping reforms now, many people believe, China's economy is heading for the ruins."
The list of issues that demand attention is staggering: Local debt, shadow banking, credit growth, property prices, urbanization policy, private sector innovation, the internationalization of the yuan and income inequality.
What will the party address in November? How detailed will the reform plans be? How quickly will changes be made? Analysts will be watching closely.
Just what is the Shanghai Free Trade Zone?
China cut the ribbon in September on its new free trade zone in Shanghai, an effort to expand foreign investment access and liberalize the financial sector. The 29 square kilometer zone is meant to be something of an economic laboratory, and successful projects could eventually be rolled out across the country.
But a few months into the experiment, details remain thin. Foreign firms are not exactly flooding into the area, and several reported reforms -- including an uncensored Internet -- have failed to materialize.
It's possible that China's bureaucrats will loosen their grip -- but there have so far been precious few hints about China's long-term plans for the Shanghai zone.
You paid less for gasoline in April, and that led overall inflation lower for the second month in a row.
The Consumer Price Index, a key measure of inflation, fell 0.4% in April, according to the Labor Department. Compared to a year earlier, prices are up only 1.1%, a level of inflation that's considered rather low.
Falling gas prices were the main driver for the broader decline for the second month in MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - May 16, 2013 8:40 AM ET
The average price for a Thanksgiving dinner fell this year in several states, including Arizona, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin.
And nationwide, the average price for a dinner for 10 people, rose only 28 cents or 0.6%, the smallest yearly increase since the recession in 2009.
So much for inflation.
It costs about $49.48 to feed a family of 10 with turkey and all the fixings this year, according to an informal survey MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Nov 19, 2012 9:41 AM ET
Are Americans feeling more miserable than they were four years ago? According to the so-called "misery index," they're not -- a fact that boosts President Obama's chances of winning re-election.
The misery index combines the unemployment rate and the annual inflation rate and has accurately predicted the outcome of nine of the last 12 presidential elections, according to economists at Deutsche Bank.
When it rises, it's considered a sign of a weaker MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Oct 17, 2012 12:08 PM ET
By now, you have probably heard of the "feud" taking place between Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and Nobel-prize winning New York Times economic columnist Paul Krugman. And if you haven't, what the heck are you doing reading this blog?
Anyway, here's the lowdown in case you aren't up to speed. Krugman took Bernanke to task in a Sunday NYT magazine piece, criticizing Bernanke for not doing enough to tackle the MOREPaul R. La Monica - Apr 26, 2012 3:27 PM ET
Here's more good news for the recovery: 47 states are predicted to see their economies strengthen over the next six months, according to a report issued by the Philadelphia Fed Tuesday.
Among them, West Virginia has the strongest prospects, likely due to a boost from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. The state also wasn't hit hard by the housing boom and bust, and has had far fewer government layoffs than other MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Apr 3, 2012 4:04 PM ET
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