Consumer spending in China has slowed. Photo: iStock
Consumer spending in China has picked up. Photo: iStock

Retail sales in China have grown for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, official data showed Tuesday, as the world’s second-largest economy promotes domestic spending as part of its recovery.

Spending had previously remained sluggish despite China bringing the virus largely under control, with shoppers still cautious amid global uncertainty.

But the key indicator of consumer sentiment rose 0.5% on-year in August – better than the flat growth that analysts polled by Bloomberg had anticipated.

The figure is up from a drop of 1.1% in the month before and follows a plunge of 20.5% in the January to February period.

Beijing has ramped up initiatives such as shopping festivals and voucher campaigns to spur consumer spending.

With external demand poised to remain weak as the country’s major trading partners struggle to contain the deadly pathogen, China has redoubled efforts to encourage its exporters to target its vast local market instead.

Industrial output, which has recovered more quickly than retail, strengthened further last month.

It grew 5.6% from a year ago, better than economists expected and more than the 4.8% increase in July.

The urban unemployment rate, a cause for concern given China’s large number of fresh graduates, slipped just slightly to 5.6% in August.

Analysts have warned that the real level of unemployment is likely higher than official numbers suggest, with smaller businesses hit hard by the virus fallout.

On Tuesday, National Bureau of Statistics spokesman Fu Linghui told reporters that China’s economy had “sustained steady recovery.”

But he cautioned that with “mounting uncertainties” internationally and “pronounced domestic structural problems, there remains huge pressure to keep employment and businesses stable and to safeguard people’s livelihood.”

He also stressed the need for high-quality development and “dual circulation,” a concept referring to leaning on the domestic market as a mainstay while taking a boost from external markets.