China's economy cools sharply in April as lockdowns bite

BY Reuters | ECONOMIC | 05/15/22 10:15 PM EDT

* April industrial output -2.9% y/y vs f'cast +0.4%

* April retail sales -11.1% y/y vs f'cast -6.1%

* Nationwide jobless rate highest since Feb 2020

* Jan-April fixed asset investment +6.8% y/y, vs f'cast +7.0%

BEIJING, May 16 (Reuters) - China's economic activity cooled sharply in April as widening COVID-19 lockdowns took a heavy toll on consumption, industrial production and employment, adding to fears the economy could shrink in the second quarter.

Full or partial lockdowns were imposed in dozens of cities in March and April, including a protracted shutdown in commercial centre Shanghai, keeping workers and shoppers confined to their homes and severely disrupting supply chains.

Retail sales in April shrank 11.1% from a year earlier, the biggest contraction since March 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday. The reading worsened from March's 3.5% fall and missed the forecasts for a 6.1% drop.

Dining-out services were suspended in some provinces and China's auto sales in April plunged 47.6% from a year earlier as car makers slashed production amid empty showrooms and parts shortages.

As the anti-virus measures snarled supply chains and paralyzed distribution, industrial production fell 2.9% from a year earlier, notably worse than a 5.0% gain in March and was below expectations for 0.4% growth. The reading was the largest decline since February 2020.

The shock also weighed on the job market, which Chinese leaders have prioritized for economic and social stability. The nationwide survey-based jobless rate rose to 6.1% in April from 5.8%, the highest since February 2020 when it stood at 6.2%.

The government aims to keep the jobless rate below 5.5% in 2022.

China wants to create more than 11 million jobs, and preferably 13 million urban jobs this year, Premier Li Keqiang said in March, but he recently called the country's employment situation "complicated and grim" following the worst COVID-19 outbreaks since 2020.

Fixed asset investment, a main driver that Beijing is counting on to prop up the economy as exports lost momentum, increased 6.8% year-on-year in the first four months, compared with an expected 7.0% rise. (Reporting by Kevin Yao, Stella Qiu and Ellen Zhang; editing by Bernard Orr)

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