REFILE-UPDATE 1-China property investment rebounds in April as economy reopens, sales decline eases

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BEIJING, May 15 (Reuters) - Real estate investment in China quickened in April while property sales fell at a much slower pace, Reuters calculations based on official data showed on Friday, providing some relief as Beijing looks to restart the economy from coronavirus-related shutdowns.

The property market is a key driver of growth in the world’s second-largest economy and was among many segments of the Chinese economy hit hard by the coronavirus and tough containment measures.

Property investment, which mainly comprises residential housing but also includes offices and other commercial building, rose 7% in April, picking up from meagre gain of 1.2% in March, Reuters calculated from National bureau of Statistics (NBS) data.

It still fell 3.3% in the first four months of 2020 from a year earlier.

Property sales also showed signs of improvement, falling 2.1% measured by floor area compared with 14.1% in March, Reuters calculations showed. They still fell 19.3% in the first four months of the year, largely due to a market freeze in the first two months of this year as city-wide lockdowns paralysed business activity and kept would-be buyers away from showrooms.

New construction starts measured by floor area fell just 1.3% from a year earlier, compared to a 10.4% drop in March.

Funds raised by China’s property developers fell 10.4% in January-April, but they were better than a 13.8% drop for the first three months of the year. The central bank has pledged to step up policy measures to support the economy, although it still cautioned against property bubble risks.

China’s economy contracted 6.8% in the first quarter from a year earlier, shrinking for the first time since at least 1992. While the worst may be over, analysts say it will take months for growth to recover to pre-crisis levels. (Reporting by Yawen Chen and Huizhong Wu; Editing by Sam Holmes and Kim Coghill)