By Lingling Wei
BEIJING-- China's economic expansion languished to its slowest pace in nearly three decades last year, as a bruising trade fight with the U.S. exacerbated weakness in the world's second-largest economy.
The 6.6% growth rate for 2018 reported Monday is the slowest annual pace that China has recorded since 1990. The economic downturn, which has been sharper than Beijing expected, deepened in the final months of 2018, with fourth quarter growth rising 6.4% from a year earlier.
Adding to the gloom was the trade conflict with Washington. The uncertain outlook for Chinese exporters caused companies to delay investing and hiring and in some cases even to resort to layoffs--a practice that is often discouraged by China's stability-obsessed Communist Party rulers. The official jobless rate ticked up to 4.9% last month from 4.8% in November.
In the southern technology and export-manufacturing center of Shenzhen, for instance, many private makers of electronics, textiles and auto parts furloughed workers more than two months before the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins in February, according to business owners and local officials. The neighboring city of Guangzhou saw growth slump to 6.5% last year--well short of the 7.5% annual target set by the city government--as trade tensions hit the city's manufacturing sector hard.
Some economists and investors have said China's economy is far more anemic than the government's 6.6% rate of expansion for 2018. They note the government's move on Friday, just ahead of Monday's data release, to cut the 2017 growth rate to 6.8% from 6.9%, which they said provides a slightly lower base, giving a slight boost to the fresh 2018 data.
"The economy faces downward pressure," said Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statics, at a news conference Monday. In particular, Mr. Ning pointed to "complicated and severe external environment."
Write to Lingling Wei at firstname.lastname@example.org