A woman rests on a table at a job fair on June 9, 2023 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

BEIJING – China’s youth unemployment rose to a record in May, while headline figures missed expectations, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Thursday.

The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds rose to 20.8% in May, a record high and above April’s peak. The urban unemployment rate for people of all ages was 5.2% in May.

Retail sales rose 12.7% in May from a year earlier, below expectations for a 13.6% rise in a Reuters poll.

Industrial production rose 3.5% in May from a year earlier, slower than the 3.6% expected in a Reuters poll.

Analysts had forecast a 4.4% increase in fixed asset investment in the first five months of the year compared to a year earlier. Fixed asset investment in the first five months of the year rose 4% from a year earlier, slower than the 4.4% forecast by Reuters.

“The national economy has maintained its momentum of recovery,” the statistics office said in a report in English.

Challenges to China’s Growth

But the Bureau warned of persistent challenges from the international environment and “increasing pressure” for “domestic structural adjustment,” without elaborating.

Data for April also fell short of analysts’ expectationsreflecting how economic China is the recovery from the pandemic was losing its breath.

Bureau of Statistics spokesman Fu Linghui told reporters on Thursday that growth in the second quarter should be faster than the first quarter because the comparable base from last year was low.

He said growth would return to a “normal” pace in the third and fourth quarters. Fu said China could hit its full-year growth target, which is set at around 5% GDP growth for 2023.

The economy grew by just 3% in 2022, the year the metropolis Shanghai was locked down in April and May as part of measures to control Covid.

Beijing ended those controls in December, but an initial recovery in growth has lost steam in recent months.

“The first imperative would be to move to a policy stimulus regime with large-scale easing,” said Bruce Pang, chief economist and head of research at JLL Greater China.

“But it could [take] two to three years to support the slowing economic recovery and regain a higher potential growth rate of over 6%,” he said, “with more balanced growth drivers and stronger domestic momentum.”

The authorities have began to loosen monetary policy in a bid to boost growth, although broader measures are not expected until top leaders meet at a regular meeting in late July.

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