April 13 (Bloomberg) -- China’s growth slowed more than forecast last quarter to the least in almost three years, prompting economists to predict a rebound as Premier Wen Jiabao loosens policy to counter weak domestic and European demand.
Gross domestic product in the world’s second-biggest economy expanded 8.1% from a year earlier after an 8.9% gain in the fourth quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said in Beijing today.
An unexpected surge in March new yuan loans shows the ruling Communist Party is trying to avoid a deeper growth slide amid a once-a-decade power transfer to younger leaders. Pickups in industrial production and retail sales reported today may limit concerns that the world recovery is losing steam after job gains in the U.S. lagged forecasts and Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis threatened to worsen.
“The Chinese economy may be starting to bottom out and possibly will reaccelerate going forward,” said Shane Oliver, Sydney-based head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors Ltd., which has almost $100 billion under management. “The pickup in lending in March and the slight gain in momentum for industrial production and retail sales suggest that growth might pick up in the months ahead.”
The Shanghai Composite Index pared gains following the report, closing up 0.4% after advancing as much as 0.5 percent. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose to a one-week high and South Korea’s won gained after a rocket launched by North Korea broke up and fell into the sea.
Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest lender by market value, jumped 3.2% in Hong Kong. Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd., the nation’s largest producer of the metal, climbed 2.7 percent.
China’s government bonds gained, with the yield on the 3.94% bond due January 2021 falling four basis points to 3.51% as of 2:26 p.m.
The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 41 economists was for an 8.4% first-quarter expansion. Growth trailed forecasts by the most since the third quarter of 2008, based on Bloomberg calculations.
Analysts at Bank of America Corp., Nomura Holdings Inc. and IHS Global Insight said the first quarter may mark a trough.
China and other countries in Asia are increasingly important for global growth, with expansion in developing East Asia and Pacific nations forecast by the World Bank to be triple the entire world’s pace this year.
Indian industrial production rose less than predicted in February, a report showed yesterday, with January’s figure revised lower because of a data error. Singapore’s economy rebounded last quarter, the government said today.
A moderation in China could drag down growth in commodity- exporting nations including Australia, which grew at half the pace economists forecast in the fourth quarter. It may also weigh on sales of foreign companies such as Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the world’s largest luxury automaker, which delivered more cars in China than in the U.S. for the first time last quarter.
Wen in March pared this year’s economic-growth target to 7.5%, the lowest since 2004, as the government seeks to cut reliance on exports and capital spending and make expansion more sustainable.
At the same time, economists at Deutsche Bank AG, Nomura Holdings Inc. and Morgan Stanley last month raised their China growth forecasts for 2012 partly on anticipation of policy loosening.
Data yesterday showed new yuan lending was the highest in a year and money-supply growth quickened in March. Local-currency- denominated loans were 1.01 trillion yuan ($160.1 billion), the People’s Bank of China said, exceeding all 28 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey.
Wen has said economic policies will be fine-tuned as needed even as he prolongs a campaign to curb property prices and speculation. The value of first-quarter home sales fell 17.5 percent. During a visit to Fujian and Guangxi provinces April 1 to 3, the premier pledged to push ahead on key investment projects, accelerate export tax-rebate payments and ensure “reasonable” liquidity.
China’s State Council, or Cabinet, pledged to stick with existing property controls and prepare policy tools to cope with economic challenges, according to a government statement today that summarized a meeting chaired by Wen.