China’s economic growth slowed to its weakest rate in nearly 30 years — to 6.1% last year, from 6.6% in 2018. The declining growth rate comes amid a bruising trade war with the US. It also follows news that, despite the easing of the one-child policy, China’s birth rate fell to its lowest since the formation of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago.
That wasn’t unexpected, and Chinese officials insisted that the country’s economy will be stable this year. But it might be too early to say the worst has passed, according to analysts.
The 6.1% GDP growth rate for 2019 was near the bottom of Beijing’s target range, and sharply down on the previous year’s 6.6%. The country also reported that GDP grew by just 6% in the fourth quarter.
The ongoing slowdown is indicative of all the challenges facing the world’s second largest economy, which is contending with rising debt, cooling domestic demand and fallout from the trade war with the United States.
Analysts have already pointed to the “phase one” deal — in which China agreed to buy hundreds of billions of dollars worth of products from the United States, among other terms — as something that will boost business confidence this year. Fitch Ratings, for example, on Thursday raised its economic growth forecast for China this year to 5.9% from 5.7%.
“The signing of the phase-one trade deal is a signal that the situation is unlikely to deteriorate,” said J.P. Morgan Asset Management Global Market Strategist Chaoping Zhu.
But analysts have also questioned whether China will be able to fully live up to its promises. The trade war isn’t over: US tariffs on many Chinese goods still remain in effect, and Washington has made it clear that those will remain a form of leverage as the two sides negotiate the next phase of their agreement. And analysts from Citi, Nomura, and Invesco have all pointed out that it will be a challenge for China to reach its import targets for US goods.