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China April economic data at multi-year lows

[BEIJING] Multiple Chinese economic indicators missed expectations Wednesday, with consumption and investment growth figures falling to multi-year lows, underlining sluggish momentum in the world's second-largest economy.

Growth in retail sales, a key indicator of consumer spending, fell to 10.0 per cent in April, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, the weakest for nine years.

Fixed asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, expanded 12.0 per cent in the first four months of the year, the lowest since 2000.

The median forecasts in polls of economists by Bloomberg News were for retail sales to rise 10.4 per cent and fixed-asset investment to climb 13.5 per cent.

Industrial output, which measures production at factories, workshops and mines, rose 5.9 per cent in April, according to the NBS, improving from a 5.6 per cent gain in March but also weaker than economists' estimate of 6.0 per cent.

The statistics are the latest poor data to emerge in China, a key driver of global expansion, suggesting that stimulus measures taken by Beijing have yet to have an effect.

The central People's Bank of China on Sunday announced its third interest rate cut since November, and this year has twice reduced the amount of cash lenders must keep in reserve, as well as using other measures to inject liquidity into the market.

China's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 7.4 per cent in 2014, the lowest rate in 24 years.

Expansion slowed further to 7.0 per cent in the January-March period, the worst quarterly result in six years and down from 7.3 per cent in the final three months of 2014.

ANZ economists said the latest figures indicated GDP growth may have decelerated to below the government's annual target of 7.0 per cent.

"Thus, more growth stabilisation policies could be expected to roll out," they wrote in a note.

Continued falls in April's exports and imports announced last week added to concerns over weakening momentum in China, while persisting mild consumer inflation statistics left room for further policy loosening.

NBS spokesman Sheng Laiyun commented in a statement posted Tuesday that the Chinese economy was "operating in a reasonable range".

"Positive elements that will help the economy grow steadily continued to emerge and accumulate," he said, pointing to factors such as accelerating private-sector investment and booming online retail sales.

But he cautioned that the "complicated and severe foreign and domestic environment for economic development" was "unchanged" as was reflected by the country's slowing exports and imports and falling factory gate prices.

The government will strengthen its economic fine-tuning to ensure a reasonable growth rate, he added.

Chinese stock markets have soared in recent months on expectations that authorities will take more measures to stimulate the economy.

Julian Evans-Pritchard, an analyst with research firm Capital Economics, said the effects of government policy moves would become clearer with time.

"The People's Bank's looser policy stance should begin to shore up activity in the coming months," he said in a report.

"Policymakers... are likely to respond to any further signs of weakness by continuing to step up policy support to ensure that growth doesn't slip much further," he said.