China reported on Monday that its economic growth slowed in the final quarter of 2013 and appears set to cool even further.
China's National Bureau of Statistics also said Monday that the economy grew by 7.7 percent for all of last year, the same as in 2012.
Analysts said the economy slowed quite rapidly in the last quarter, with factory output, exports and investment all weaker than the previous quarter. The cool-down may be a sign of more sober times ahead as the government wrestles to implement major reforms.
Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, cautioned that the foundation for economic recovery still needs to be consolidated as the world's second largest economy enters a stage of transformation and development.
“In general, the economic growth in 2013 was overall stable. The economy was growing and improving while remaining stable. The achievement was hard-won. Meanwhile, we must see clearly that the economy of our country is in a crucial period of transformation and development, deep-rooted problems are to be eased, and the foundation for economic recovery is still to be consolidated,” Ma told reporters in Beijing.
After 30 years of sizzling double-digit economic growth that lifted many millions of Chinese out of poverty but also devastated the environment, China wants to change tack by embracing sustainable and higher-quality development instead.
Any change is expected to come at a cost of more muted economic growth, a price Beijing says it is willing to pay.
With China stepping up its efforts to remake its economy by promoting domestic consumption at the expense of exports and investment, some analysts predicted that the world's second-largest economy may lose further momentum this year.
“We are in the comforting background that you can push for reform because the growth momentum is quite stable. But the cautious side is that if you compare the third quarter versus the fourth quarter, I will say there was some slowdown in the fourth quarter. So in that sense I will say the concern is that if you particularly focus on… structural reform, the near term impact on growth may be negative. So in that sense, how to combine these two policy objectives -- reform and growth -- that is still a tough question for the policymakers,” said Zhu Haibin, chief China economist and head of Greater China Economic Research at J.P. Morgan.
Other data released alongside GDP showed industrial output grew 9.7 percent in December from a year ago, versus expectations of 9.8 percent showed in the Reuters poll.
Retail sales in December rose 13.6 percent on a year ago, in line with expectations.
Fixed-asset investment grew 19.6 percent in 2013 from a year earlier, versus an expected 19.8 percent. The government only publishes cumulative investment data.
Officials said that a long-term accumulation of problems has yet to ease, and a mini-stimulus of government spending last year has faded.
Growth of the world's second-largest economy is still considerably stronger than the United States, Japan or Europe.
Some information in this report was contributed by Reuters.