China’s first quarter GDP beats expectations to grow 4.8% year-on-year

A traffic police officer prepares to check a truck at a service station near Shanghai, which has ordered tighter restrictions on travel in and out of the city as China battles its most severe Covid outbreak since the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
Yin Liqin | China News Service via Getty Images

BEIJING — China’s first quarter GDP grew faster than expected despite the impact of Covid lockdowns in parts of the country in March, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics Monday.

First quarter GDP rose by 4.8%, topping expectations of a 4.4% increase from a year ago.

Fixed asset investment for the first quarter rose by 9.3% from a year ago, topping expectations for 8.5% growth. Industrial production in March rose by 5%, beating the forecast for 4.5% growth.

However, retail sales in March fell by a more-than-expected 3.5% from a year earlier. Analysts polled by Reuters anticipated a 1.6% decline.

Beginning in March, the country has struggled to contain its worst Covid outbreak since the initial phase of the pandemic in 2020. Back then, lockdowns across more than half the country resulted in a 6.8% contraction in first quarter growth from a year earlier.

“We must be aware that with the domestic and international environment becoming increasingly complicated and uncertain, the economic development is facing significant difficulties and challenges,” the bureau said in a statement.

The urban unemployment rate ticked higher in March to 5.8%, up from 5.5% in February. The unemployment rate for those aged 16 to 24 remained far higher at 16%.

Retail sales grew by 3.3% in the first quarter from a year ago, but the apparel, autos and furniture subcategories still posted declines for the period.

Within retail sales, jewelry declined the most and was down by 17.9% in March from a year ago. It was followed by a 16.4% decline in catering and a 12.7% decline in clothing and shoes, the data showed.

“We must coordinate the efforts of Covid-19 prevention and control and economic and social development, make economic stability our top priority and pursue progress while ensuring stability, and put the task of ensuring stable growth in an even more prominent position,” the bureau said.

Although economic figures released for January and February beat expectations, figures for March have begun to reflect the impact of stay-home orders and travel restrictions around economic centers like the coastal metropolis of Shanghai.

Exports, a major driver of China’s growth, rose by a more-than-expected 14.7% in March, but imports unexpectedly fell, down by 0.1% from a year ago, according to data released last week.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

Sophie Tremblay

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