Workers in an automobile factory in Beijing. Photo: iStock

China’s economy continues to show signs of stress. On Thursday, data released by the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that industrial output slowed during the first two months of the year with unemployment rising.

The figures are bound to make uncomfortable reading for Beijing as it tries to resolve the trade war with Washington. The numbers were also announced as the political elite gathered in the capital for the annual parliamentary session of the National People’s Congress.

Key data revolved around factory growth for January and February, which slowed to 5.3% compared to the same period last year.

Significantly, that was a 17-year low, while the unemployment rate jumped to 5.3% in February from 4.9% in December.

“We must be aware that there are many uncertainties and instabilities from the external environment,” Mao Shengyong, a spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, said.

“The economy faces downward pressure,” he added.

Economic data for the first two months of the year is often combined in China because of the extended Lunar New Year holiday, which usually takes place in February.

During the festive period, there is a nationwide shutdown in factories and plants across the country.

But the statistics were still disappointing, according to Larry Hu, the head of China economics at Macquarie.

“[The] data is the third wake-up call to the market in six days after exports data last Friday and credit data on Sunday,” he said in a report. “All of them point to strong growth headwinds ahead.”

At least there were a couple of crumbs of comfort.

Fixed-asset investment increased to 6.1% and retail sales jumped 8.2% on the back of holiday spending.

“[Still,] we expect economic growth to remain under pressure in the coming months from slowing exports and still subdued sentiment,” Louis Kuijs, of Oxford Economics, said.

– additional reporting by AFP

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