* China Q1 GDP growth below f'cast at 8.1 pct vs 8.9 pct in
* March industrial output at 11.9 pct vs 11.5 pct forecast
* March retail sales at 15.2 pct vs 15.0 pct forecast
BEIJING, April 13 China's economy grew at its
weakest pace in nearly three years in the first quarter, with
the annual rate of expansion slowing more than expected to 8.1
percent from 8.9 percent in the previous three months, the
National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday.
The GDP data headlined a flurry of indicators published on
Friday signalling that China's economy is struggling to escape
the grip of its worst sequential slowdown since the global
financial crisis of 2008/09, reinforcing investor expectations
of continued policy action to support growth.
"The main downside was with exports and some in terms of
consumption," Kevin Lai, an economist at Daiwa in Hong Kong.
"In general, I think the first quarter export results have
disappointed the consensus. We still believe there should be
more policy relaxation to add to growth domestically and offset
weakness in exports."
The other indicators published on Friday showed March
industrial output expanded 11.9 percent, March retail sales rose
15.2 percent and quarterly fixed asset investment, one of the
principal drivers of China's economy, grew 20.9 percent.
They were broadly in line with the increasingly conservative
expectations of investors who have grown concerned in recent
weeks that the bottom of China's economic cycle would extend
into the second quarter of the year.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast annual growth of
8.3 percent for the first quarter.
The fifth successive quarter of slowing annual growth in the
first three months of 2012 left the economy on track for its
weakest full year of expansion in a decade.
The GDP number matched the 8.1 percent posted in the second
quarter of 2009, when policymakers in the world's second-biggest
economy were rolling out 4 trillion yuan ($635 billion) of
stimulus to escape the grip of a financial crisis that had
driven global trade to a virtual halt.
China's economy expanded by 9.2 percent in 2011, a two-year
low. Economists polled by Reuters expect growth in 2012 to ease
further to 8.4 percent, which would be its slackest since 2002.
The downside risks have intensified after patchy data since
the start of the year, raising fears that the downward drift
will extend into the second quarter.
Global demand for China's exports may remain sluggish into
mid-year, with much of the euro zone seen in recession and weak
jobs data last week reviving concerns about the strength of the
U.S. economic recovery.
China's statistics agency said on Friday the country still
faced difficulties stabilising export growth.
But March money supply data released on Thursday suggested
that a recovery might be gaining traction, with new loans made
in the month topping 1 trillion yuan ($158.55 billion)for the
first time since January 2011, coming in about 25 percent ahead
of expectations after two straight months of underperformance.
That data, coupled with a bounce in the index of China
leading indicators calculated by the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD), leaves some economists more
confident that growth was likely to rebound in coming months.
The OECD leading indicator has successfully forecast
previous turning points in China's business cycle.