China's 2013 economic cooldown marks shift to less heady growth
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's economy likely grew in 2013 at its weakest rate in 14 years due to a deceleration in the fourth quarter as a result of flagging investment and demand, heralding more sober times ahead.
Analysts say the world's second biggest economy could cool further as China's efforts to increase domestic consumption at the expense of exports and investment gather pace this year.
The fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data is due to be released at 10 a.m. (0200 GMT).
The median forecast of 24 economists polled by Reuters showed GDP likely grew 7.6 percent between October and December from a year earlier, easing from 7.8 percent in the previous three months.
That leaves growth in the Chinese economy at 7.6 percent for all of 2013, a low unseen since 1999.
"We expect the Chinese economy to face relatively big downward pressure this year," said Li Wei, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Shanghai. "It is still hard for consumption to pick up the slack from investment and exports."
After 30 years of sizzling double-digit economic growth that lifted many millions of Chinese out of poverty but also devastated the environment, China wants to change tack by embracing sustainable and higher-quality development instead.
Any change is expected to come at a cost of more muted economic growth, a price Beijing says it is willing to pay.
And Monday's data should show Beijing has kept its word.
Fixed-asset investment -- a main driver of China's economy -- is forecast to have risen 19.8 percent in all of 2013 from the previous year. That is the weakest growth in at least a decade, a reflection of Beijing's refusal to boost state investment last year when China's economy foundered.
Industrial output, meantime, is forecast to grow 9.8 percent in December from a year ago, moderating from November's 10 percent gain as factories struggled with lukewarm demand at home and abroad.
A Reuters visit to scores of factories in south China this month showed China's manufacturing heartlands have closed earlier than usual this year for the nation's biggest holiday, discouraged by weak orders and rising costs.
Underlining China's subdued domestic demand, growth in retail sales is seen dipping to 13.6 percent from November's 13.7 percent.
Sagging growth in investment and domestic demand come at a time when Chinese factories are also fighting fragile global markets. Sales of Chinese exports had underwhelmed last year, missing an official 2013 growth target of 8 percent.
Although many analysts expect China's export business to pick up this year, the country's trade ministry sounded a cautious note this week by saying domestic exporters may have trouble beating their 2013 sales performance this year.
(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Aileen Wang; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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