China GDP grows record 18.3% in first quarter in virus rebound

The world's second-largest economy was the only major one to grow at all in 2020, supported by industrial activity and better-than-expected exports as the virus hit markets around the world.

FILE: People wear face masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus as they walk through the Forbidden City, the former palace of China's emperors, in Beijing on 1 May 2020. Picture: AFP

BEIJING – China's economy expanded at its fastest pace in record in the first quarter, data showed Friday, in a sharp turnaround from its historic contraction caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The world's second-largest economy was the only major one to grow at all in 2020, supported by industrial activity and better-than-expected exports as the virus hit markets around the world.

While the disease first emerged in central China in late 2019, the country was also the quickest to bounce back after authorities imposed strict control measures and consumers stayed home.

"The national economy made a good start," National Bureau of Statistics spokeswoman Liu Aihua told reporters Friday.

Although the GDP figure was slightly below forecasts in an AFP survey of economists, it still marks the fastest pace since records began three decades ago.

The sharp spike was partly due to "incomparable factors such as the low base figure of last year and increase of working days due to staff staying put during the Lunar New Year" holiday, said Liu.

But she added that quarter-on-quarter growth has "demonstrated a steady recovery".

Across key sectors, China powered on in economic recovery.

In March, the country's industrial output rose 14.1% on-year, bringing first quarter growth to 24.5%, the official data showed.

Retail sales surged 34.2% , picking up from the first two months and bringing first-quarter growth to 33.9% as life largely returned to normal.

Liu, however, warned that the international landscape still contained "high uncertainties".

In March, the urban unemployment rate ticked down slightly to 5.3%, a figure analyst are watching closely with China's consumption rebound behind that of its industrial sectors.

"The recovery remains uneven, with private consumption lagging given rising unemployment," HSBC chief China economist Qu Hongbin said in a recent report.

He added that when the low base of comparison for on-year growth was removed -- given how widespread the virus was in the same period -- underlying GDP growth was likely to be below pre-pandemic levels of 6%.

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