China's Growth Slows to 9.1%

Down from 9.5% in Q2

China said on Oct. 18 that its economic growth slowed to 9.1% in the third quarter as government efforts to tame inflation and turbulence in Europe and the United States curbed activity.

Growth in the world's second-largest economy slowed from 9.5% in the second quarter to its lowest rate in two years, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

Analysts said the rise in gross domestic product, which was slightly below the 9.2% forecast by economists in a poll by Dow Jones Newswires, pointed to a soft landing for the Chinese economy. Year-on-year growth in China has slowed for three straight quarters as Beijing -- anxious about soaring costs -- restricted lending and hiked interest rates, while U.S. and European demand for Chinese-made products weakened.

Other economic indicators also suggested China -- the growth engine for the world since the 2008 financial crisis -- was losing steam just as the global economy teeters on the edge of another recession.

"Currently the economic growth is facing an even more complicated external and internal environment," NBS spokesman Sheng Laiyun said. Despite the "increasing" uncertainty, Sheng said that the Chinese economy was "very likely" to maintain "stable and fast growth."

China's weaker-than-expected growth, combined with fresh concerns about the eurozone debt crisis, weighed on regional markets.

Industrial output growth from China's millions of factories and workshops slowed slightly to 14.2% in the first nine months of the year as the downturn in major export markets hurt the country's vast manufacturing sector.

For September alone, production expanded by 13.8% year-on-year compared with 13.5% in August.

Fixed asset investment, a key measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose 24.9% in the first nine months compared with the same period a year ago, down a notch from the first eight months of the year.

Retail sales rose 17.7% year-on-year in September and 17% in the first nine months of 2011.

On a quarterly basis, growth in gross domestic product accelerated to 2.3% in the third quarter over the second quarter.

"The Chinese economy continues to chug towards a soft landing," said Alistair Thornton, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in Beijing. "The greatest downside risk facing Chinas short-term outlook emanates from advanced economies," though "some cracks are also showing on the domestic front."

Moody's economist Alaistair Chan agreed, noting China would not be able to launch "another four trillion yuan (US$586 billion) credit stimulus if the global economy tanks again."

China has been the driving force for the world economy and the steady slowdown is likely to fuel concerns about its ability to help debt-laden eurozone countries and the United States. But Beijing faces a policy dilemma of slowing growth and high inflation, which has the historic potential to trigger social unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people. Despite persistent efforts to rein in soaring household costs, inflation has hovered above 6% for several months and Sheng noted that "macroeconomic control policies should maintain continuity and stability".

The inflation rate dipped slightly to 6.1% in September but remained well above the official annual target of 4%.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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