March 16, 2020 / 2:04 AM / 18 days ago

China Jan-Feb industrial output shrinks 13.5%; investment plunges 24.5%

* Virus outbreak caused severe economic disruptions

* Industrial output -13.5% y/y in Jan-Feb; Reuters poll 1.5% y/y

* Fixed asset investment down 24.5% y/y; Reuters poll +2.8% y/y

* Retail sales -20.5% in Jan-Feb; Reuters poll 0.8% y/y

BEIJING, March 16 (Reuters) - China’s industrial output contracted at the sharpest pace in 30 years in the first two months of the year as the fast spreading coronavirus and strict containment measures severely disrupted the world’s second-largest economy, data showed on Monday.

Urban investment and retail sales also fell sharply and for the first time on record, reinforcing views that the epidemic may have cut China’s economic growth in half in the first quarter.

Industrial output fell by a much more than expected 13.5% in January-February from the same period a year earlier, the weakest reading since January 1990 when Reuters record started, and a sharp reversal from 6.9% growth in December, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed.

The median forecast of analysts polled by Reuters was for a rise of 1.5%, though estimates varied widely.

Fixed asset investment fell 24.5% year-on-year, compared with 2.8% predicted by analysts and 5.4% growth in the prior period.

Retail sales shrank 20.5% on-year, compared with a rise of 0.8% tipped by analysts and plunging from 8% growth in December as consumers fearful of the virus shunned crowded places like shopping malls, restaurants and movie theatres.

Chinese officials said last week that the peak of the epidemic has passed, but analysts warn it could take months before the economy returns to normal. The fast spread of the virus around the world is sparking fears of a global recession that will dampen demand for Chinese goods.

Reporting by Kevin Yao and Huizhong Wu; Editing by Sam Holmes

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