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China Searchin g for Something


  By Lan Shen

  What people search for online can be a good signal ofpresent and future consumer demand. In March 2009, we believe we became the first bank research team to use Google Tools to track whatpeople in China were searching for online. We are now excitedto find that Baidu, which has an 80% share ofthe search market among China´sonline population of300mn, has developed a similar tool, the Baidu Index (BI).Again, we believe we are the first to use this tool to highlight what the Chineseconsumer is thinking about. Our main findings are as follows:

  Interest in buying a home has risen in the last few months, after pla-teauing at a high level in 2010. This is a bullish signal for near-term housingdemand.

  Interest in buying a car is rising again, too.

  Online interest in infiation is through the roof.

  Wealth management products appear to be the dominant inflationmanagement tool for retailinvestors.

  First, a quick note on how the BI works. We did all of our searches insimplified Chinese and limited them to searches in mainland China. The re-sults are an index representing the number ofdaily searches for that term overtime via Baidu´s search engine (we asked Baidu´s investor relations departmenthow they calculate this index, but the exact details have not been made pub-lic). Despite this lack of transparency, it is clear that the BI is different fromGoogle´s equivalent tool. Google compares the number of searches for onesearch term to all other searches car-ried out at t at time, and thus providesa sense of how popular a search termis relative to others. The´Baidu Index,in contrast, will show more searchessimply as a result of an increase in theonline population, and in the numberof people using Baidu. As a result, weshould focus on periods of stabilityand spurts in growth in the BI. Mostof therBI data starts in June 2006 andruns to December 2010. Unfortunately,Baidu does not allow the data to bedownloaded, so we have eyeballed thecharts and recreated them as best we can. Baidu also .provides statistics onthe gender, age, occupation, educationand location of searchers. To smoothout the volatility, we have averagedthe monthly data over three months inour charts. Housing interest continuesto rise Nationwide searches for ´buy a home´(‘买房’) are rising again, as Chart 1 shows. The only time searches for thisterm declined between June 2006 and December 2010 was during a briefperi- od in Q1 and Q2-2008. When searches recovered in Q3-2008, transactions fol-lowed, and so did the monthly average selling price (ASP). Strong interest was maintained throughout 2009-10. Inter-estingly, there was no dip in searches following the property-market coolingmeasures announced in April 2010. Even more interestingly, search interesthas risen again since Q3-2010. This suggests that strong transaction volumes can be expected in the near term. Looking at city-specific data (available sinceOctober 2008), searches from the top three cities (Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen) followed almost the same pattern as nationwide searches until re-cently, but the two have diverged sincre H2_2010 (see Chart 2). Ihis suggests that housing demand in Tier l cities has weakened, while buying interest inother cities has risen graduaUy. This refiects transaction activity (for more de- tails on China´s housing market, see Sp) ecial Report, 18 November 2010,´China- Our big real-estate survey, Phase 2´).

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