China's economic growth slowed to 6.2 per cent in the second quarter, its weakest pace in at least 27 years, as demand at home and abroad faltered in the face of mounting US trade pressure.
While more upbeat June factory output and retail sales offered signs of improvement, some analysts cautioned the gains may not be sustainable, and expect Beijing will continue to roll out more support measures in coming months.
China's trading partners and financial markets are closely watching the health of the world's second-largest economy as the Sino-US trade war gets longer and costlier, fuelling worries of a global recession.
Monday's growth data marked a loss of momentum for the economy from the first quarter's 6.4 per cent, amid expectations that Beijing needs to do more to boost consumption and investment and restore business confidence.
The April-June pace was in line with analysts' expectations for the slowest since the first quarter of 1992, the earliest quarterly data on record.
"China's growth could slow to 6 per cent to 6.1 per cent in the second half," said Nie Wen, an economist at Hwabao Trust. That would test the lower end of Beijing's 2019 target range of 6-6.5 per cent.
Cutting banks' reserve requirement ratios (RRR) "is still very likely as the authorities want to support the real economy in a long run," he said, predicting the economy would continue to slow before stabilising around mid-2020.
China has already slashed RRR six times since early 2018 to free up more funds for lending and analysts polled by Reuters forecast two more cuts this quarter and next.
Beijing has leaned largely on fiscal stimulus to underpin growth this year, announcing massive tax cuts worth nearly 2 trillion yuan ($US291 billion) and a quota of 2.15 trillion yuan for special bond issuance by local governments aimed at boosting infrastructure construction.
The economy has been slow to respond, however, and business sentiment remains cautious.
Trade pressures have intensified since Washington sharply hiked tariffs on Chinese goods in May. While the two sides have since agreed to resume trade talks and hold off on further punitive action, they remain at odds over significant issues needed for an agreement.
Data on Friday showed China's exports fell in June and its imports shrank more than expected, while an official survey showed factories were shedding jobs at the fastest pace since the global crisis..
Premier Li Keqiang said this month that China will make timely use of cuts in banks' reserve ratios and other financing tools to support smaller firms, while repeating a vow not to use "flood-like" stimulus.
A steady string of weak economic data in recent months and the sudden escalation in the US-China trade war had sparked questions over whether more forceful easing may be needed to get the Chinese economy back on steadier footing, including some form of interest rate cuts.
But June activity data on Monday showed industrial production, retail sales and fixed-asset investment all beat analysts' forecasts, suggesting that Beijing's earlier growth-boosting efforts may be starting to have an effect.
Analysts also say room for more aggressive monetary policy easing is being limited by fears of adding to high debt levels and structural risks.
Australian Associated Press