© Bloomberg. Shared bicycles used as makeshift barriers during a lockdown in Shanghai. Source: /Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) — China’s economy contracted in April, with Covid outbreaks and lockdowns dragging the industrial and consumer sectors down to the weakest levels since early 2020 as millions of residents were confined to their homes and factories were forced to halt production.
Industrial output fell 2.9% in April from a year ago, worse than the median estimate of a 0.5% increase in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Retail sales contracted 11.1% in the period, weaker than a projected 6.6% drop. The unemployment rate climbed to 6.1%, higher than the forecast of 6%.
China’s economy has taken an enormous toll from the government’s stringent efforts to keep the virus at bay. Beijing has insisted on sticking with its Covid Zero strategy to curb infections, even though the high transmissibility of omicron puts cities at greater risk of repeatedly locking down and reopening compared to earlier strains.
“Covid outbreaks in April had a big impact on the economy, but the impact is short-term,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. “With progress in Covid controls and policies to stabilize the economy taking effect, the economy is likely to recover gradually.”
China’s benchmark CSI 300 stock index was down 0.3% as of 10:04 am local time. The was little changed at 6.7917 per dollar. The yield on the 10-year government bonds rose 1 basis point to 2.83%.
Fixed-asset investment increased 6.8% in the first four months of the year, largely in line with projected growth of 7%, likely supported by the government’s push to expand infrastructure spending.
The economic shocks from the zero-tolerance policy have pushed China’s ambitious full-year growth target of around 5.5% further out of reach, and is weighing on the global growth outlook.
Beijing has signaled that policy makers will step up support for the economy, with Premier Li Keqiang recently urging officials to ensure stability through fiscal and monetary policy.
The People’s Bank of China took steps on Sunday to ease a housing crunch by reducing mortgage rates for first-time homebuyers. It left the interest rate on one-year policy loans unchanged on Monday, as inflation pressure and worries about capital outflows reduce the scope for more easing.
Monetary stimulus is proving less effective because of the stringent virus restrictions, with data on Friday showing businesses and consumers had little appetite to borrow in April. Credit growth weakened sharply last month, with new yuan loans sinking to the lowest level since December 2017.
(Updates with comment from statistics office)
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