China’s industrial output slowed during the first two months of the year as unemployment rose, official data showed Thursday, while some indicators showed a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy stabilising. The figures from the National Bureau of Statistics come as Beijing and Washington appear to be nearing a deal to resolve their painful trade spat, and Chinese leaders convene in the capital for an annual parliamentary session. Output growth at China’s factories and workshops for the first two months slowed to 5.3 percent onyear, from 5.7 percent in December, a multi-year low and short of forecasts.
“We must be aware that there are many uncertainties and instabilities from the external environment,” said NBS spokesman Mao Shengyong. “The economy faces downward pressure,” he told reporters. China’s normally steady unemployment rate rose to 5.3 per cent in February, from 4.9pc in December, with the NBS saying it had expected worse numbers. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last week laid out a lower growth target of 6.0-6.5pc this year, from 6.6pc growth in 2018, which was already the slowest pace for almost three decades.
Policymakers huddled in Beijing have talked up plans to support the economy, announcing tax cuts, fee reductions, and financing support. A plan to cut value-added tax for manufacturers will help the struggling sector. In January and February car sales continued to fall and manufacturing activity sunk. The latest data showed growth in retail sales for January-February remained flat from December, rising 8.2 percent on-year and slightly above forecasts from economists polled by Bloomberg News.
However, retail sales remain near a 15-year low, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a note, adding that “the near-term outlook still looks downbeat”. Beijing is counting on consumers and renewed investment to stabilise the economy. Fixed-asset investment rose 6.1pc in the first two months, from 5.9pc in 2018. Last year investment in infrastructure crumbled as China hit the brakes on major projects such as subway lines and motorways to keep a lid on debt.