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Q1 GDP growth steady at 6.8%: economists

2017-04-13     Reuters     visits:0

China's economy likely grew 6.8 percent in the first quarter, the same pace as the previous quarter, because of government infrastructure spending and a hot housing market, according to a Reuters poll of 60 economists.

But the world's second-largest economy is widely expected to lose steam later in the year as the impact of earlier stimulus measures starts to fade and local authorities take further steps to cool housing prices.

The first-quarter GDP figure is due for release on April 17.

A tighter monetary policy stance by the central bank and intensifying efforts by regulators to contain debt risks and asset bubbles could also weigh on growth if not handled well, economists said.

"Growth is still driven by infrastructure investment and the property sector, but property investment is likely to slow in the second half due to curbs on home buying and mortgages," said Tang Jianwei, an economist at Bank of Communications in Shanghai. "The economy is stabilizing and warming up, but there are still downside risks in the medium term."

A higher-than-expected GDP figure would likely boost shares and global commodity prices, but a weak outcome could fuel the risk of more capital outflows, putting fresh pressure on the yuan.

The government is aiming for 2017 growth of about 6.5 percent, slightly lower than last year's target of 6.5 percent to 7 percent and the actual 6.7 percent for 2016, which was the weakest pace in 26 years.

Top leaders have signaled tolerance for more modest growth this year to help defuse financial risks created by explosive growth in debt.

Economists in the poll estimated GDP grew 1.6 percent quarter-on-quarter, versus 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter, though only 25 analysts gave sequential forecasts.

Most analysts agree the property market may pose the single biggest immediate risk to growth.

In March and early April, numerous local governments imposed or tightened restrictions on home purchases and tightened mortgage down payment rules, after data showed housing prices, sales and investment remained strong in spite of previous cooling measures.

Increasingly tough measures are expected to slow activity in the property market eventually, but at the risk of a crash that would hurt the economy and consumer confidence.

Meanwhile, China's central bank has shifted to a tightening bias and is using more targeted measures to contain risks in the financial system, after years of ultra-loose settings.

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