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China's investment rises at slowest rate since 2001

China's fixed-asset investment, a main measure of government spending on infrastructure projects, rose by its slowest rate in more than 12 years in the January-April period, the government said Tuesday.

BEIJING: China's fixed-asset investment, a main measure of government spending on infrastructure projects, rose by its slowest rate in more than 12 years in the January-April period, the government said Tuesday.

Growth in the world's second-largest economy is decelerating, but leaders in Beijing say they want to wean the country off investment as the key driver of expansion and shift the focus to consumer spending.

Fixed-asset investment rose by 17.3 per cent year-on-year in the first four months of the 2014, slowing from 17.6 per cent in the first quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.

The figure is only released cumulatively, and the reading was the lowest since the increase for the whole of 2001, when it stood at 13.7 per cent, NBS data showed.

It was one of several figures adding to concerns over the weakening of China's economy, a key driver of the global recovery, and analysts called on Beijing to ease its monetary policy.

"The pressure for more policy easing continues to build," Zhang Zhiwei, Nomura's economist based in Hong Kong, said in a research note.

China's industrial output increased by 8.7 per cent year-on-year in April, the NBS also said, edging down from 8.8 per cent a month earlier.

The indicator rose by 8.6 per cent in the first two months of the year, the slowest in five years, previous data showed.

Retail sales, a gauge of consumer spending, increased by 11.9 per cent last month from a year ago, the NBS added, down from an increase of 12.2 per cent in March.

The figures are likely to add to concerns over the weakening of China's economic growth, a key driver of the global recovery.

The country's gross domestic product (GDP) grew 7.4 per cent in the first three months of 2014, weaker than the 7.7 per cent in October-December last year and the worst since a similar 7.4 per cent expansion in the third quarter of 2012.

Premier Li Keqiang in March announced a growth target of "around 7.5 per cent" for 2014.

Top officials have publicly ruled out a massive stimulus package to kick-start growth and have instead introduced a series of smaller measures, including a cut in the amount of money rural lenders have to keep in reserve, tax breaks for small enterprises and targeted infrastructure outlays.

However, ANZ analysts Liu Ligang and Zhou Hao said the growth target was unlikely to be achieved without a cut in lending rates as well as in the amount of money banks must keep in reserve.

"If the government still views that achieving a 7.5 per cent growth target is important for its credibility, China's monetary policy will have to play its necessary role by easing further in order to help pull the economy out of a state of lethargy," they said in a report.

China in April cut the reserve requirement ratio for rural banks by up to two percentage points, the first such move since May 2012, when it slashed the ratio to 20 per cent for large financial institutions and 16.5 per cent for smaller ones.

It has not reduced lending rates since July 2012.

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