China’s economic performance slumped in the first two months of this year, according to government data released Wednesday, providing further evidence of a slowdown that Beijing may have to address with more stimulus measures.
Industrial production in January and February grew 6.8% from a year earlier, the slowest pace since the dark days of December 2008, while retail sales during the same period rose 10.7%, the slowest in a decade.
The most worrying trend, The Wall Street Journal reports, is that property transaction volumes fell nearly 17%, “snuffing out hopes that a recovery was building late last year.” Unsold apartment inventory hit another record at 422 million square meters.
“People were decidedly not buying property during the Lunar New Year, despite government moves across the country to loosen borrowing and cut out restrictions on apartment purchases that were put in place when the market was overheated,” the WSJ said.
Reuters said the data showed intensifying deflationary pressures in the factory sector, “reinforcing expectations of more interest rate cuts and other policy loosening to avert a sharper slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.”
“China needs to engage in more aggressive policy easing, and we see that a reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cut will be imminent,” ANZ economist Li-Gang Liu said, adding that stimulus measures rolled out since last year seem to have had limited effect.
So far, the WSJ noted, China has been relatively guarded about stimulating the economy. Two interest rate cuts and a move to cut bank reserve requirements haven’t been enough to boost growth. “They are more like cushions to break the fall,” the WSJ said.
Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a 7.8% rise in industrial output for January and February and an 11.7% increase in retail sales. Fixed-asset investment rose 13.9%, the weakest expansion since 2001 and lower than analysts’ forecasts of a 15% gain.
“Double-digit industrial production levels will be a thing of the past,” said Chester Liaw, an economist at Forecast Pte in Singapore. “It is highly unlikely that retail sales will hold out for long above the 10 percent mark as well.”