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China’s economy grew 4.5% in the first quarter, the fastest pace in a year


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Pedestrians cross a road in Shanghai, China, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China’s first-quarter gross domestic product rose sharply while global peers face slowing growth as central banks hike rates to tame inflation.

GDP grew by 4.5% in the first quarter, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said Tuesday. That marks the highest growth since the first quarter of last year — when China’s economy grew by 4.8% — and better than the 4% forecast in a Reuters poll. Quarter-on-quarter, the economy grew 2.2%.

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China’s growth has been under the spotlight as it reopens after ending most of its strict Covid restrictions that were in place for nearly three years. The economy expanded 2.9% in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Retail sales jumped 10.6% in March as online sales of physical goods picked up. Industrial output rose 3.9%, slightly lower than Reuters’ forecasts of 4%.

Year-to-date fixed asset investment was weaker than expected and rose 5.1% compared with a year ago, as growth slowed in infrastructure and manufacturing investment. Real estate investment meanwhile continued to decline.

The economy grew 3% in 2022, less than Beijing’s official target of around 5.5% set in March last year. For 2023, the government last month set a modest growth target of “around 5%.”

Stimulus ahead

China’s economy is likely to see another boost from government stimulus later in the year, NF Trinity’s managing director Helen Zhu told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” shortly after the data release.

“I think we’re going to be tracking higher than the 5% target for the second quarter, and hopefully by the third quarter, a lot of the policy stimulus would have come through,” she said.

She added that the latest reading pushes back against skeptics of China’s ability to reach its 2023 full-year growth target and will likely lead to upward revisions in GDP forecasts accordingly.

“The numbers are undoubtedly much stronger than anyone anticipated, and I think it’s a really good start of to the year,” she said.

ING’s Chief China economist Iris Pang said she also expects the Chinese government to release extra stimulus to boost its infrastructure investments and consumption.

“To keep the 5% growth target for 2023, the government needs to push forward infrastructure investments, most of which should be building metro lines and increasing the number of 5G towers as these are already in the plan for this year,” she wrote in a note ahead of the GDP report.

“We, therefore, expect GDP to grow faster at 6.0%YoY in the second quarter. We keep the full-year GDP forecast at 5% as external demand should be a concern for the year,” Pang wrote.

Services rebound

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

While most analysts polled by Reuters don’t expect to see a change in the central bank’s benchmark lending rate, some believe the People’s Bank of China could marginally cut its one-year loan prime rate if China’s inflation slows further.

China’s consumer inflation hit an 18-month low earlier this month.

– CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.

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