China's economy posts slowest growth since 1999

Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:14am EST
 

By Kevin Yao and Aileen Wang

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 13 years in 2012, though a year-end spurt supported by infrastructure spending and a jump in trade signaled the foundation for the stable growth path Beijing says is vital for economic reform may be in sight.

Evidence of a burgeoning recovery in exports, stronger than expected industrial output and retail sales, together with robust fixed asset investment, all indicated that Beijing's pro-growth policy mix has gained sufficient traction to underpin a revival without yet igniting inflationary risks.

Year-on-year growth of 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter beat a consensus forecast of 7.8 percent in a Reuters poll and snapped a streak of seven consecutive quarters of slowdown.

The performance was at the upper end of the 7-8 percent rate economists reckon is needed to deliver on reforms essential to China's long-term development after three decades of red-hot, double-digit growth.

Full year growth of 7.8 percent was also just ahead of the poll's 7.7 percent call and, although the weakest since 1999, comfortably ahead of the government's 7.5 percent target, which just months ago seemed to some economists to be in jeopardy.

"It's kind of like a golden spot - stronger growth, but not strong enough to trigger a lot more inflationary concern. That's perfect for equity markets." said Dariusz Kowalczyk, Asia ex-Japan senior economist and strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

"What everybody wants is growth that's strong enough to give us peace of mind that revenues will increase and there is no hard landing risk, but not excessive, not strong enough to trigger inflation. And this is what I think we are getting. I'm bullish on China still."

Market reaction was generally upbeat, with Asian shares advancing and platinum and palladium following suit, while oil traders took the opportunity of data confirming the recovery to book profits after two sessions of steep rises.   Continued...

 
A man walks near a construction site in Beijing January 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee