BEIJING: China’s economy grew 5.2% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, official data showed on Wednesday, missing analysts’ expectations slightly but still ensuring Beijing met its annual 2023 growth target despite a shaky start to the year.

Confounding most analysts’ expectations, the world’s second-largest economy has struggled to mount a strong and sustainable post-COVID pandemic bounce, burdened by a protracted property crisis, weak consumer and business confidence, mounting local government debts, and slower global growth.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) would expand 5.3% from a year earlier, quickening from the third quarter’s 4.9% pace.

“The recovery from COVID — disappointing as it was — is over,” according to China Beige Book International’s latest survey released on Wednesday.

“Any true acceleration (this year) will require either a major global upside surprise or more active government policy.” For the full-year 2023, the economy grew 5.2%, data from the National Bureau of Statistics data showed, partly helped by the previous year’s low-base effect which was marked by COVID-19 lockdowns. Analysts had forecast 5.2% growth.

On a quarter-by-quarter basis, GDP grew 1.0% in October-December, in line with expectations for a 1.0% increase and compared with a revised 1.5% gain in the previous quarter.

Beijing set a growth target of around 5% for 2023 and policy insiders expect it to maintain a similar goal for this year.

December activity indicators released along with the GDP data on Wednesday showed factory output growth quickened at the fastest pace since Feb 2022, but retail sales grew at the slowest pace since September.

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