China's economy grew at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis in the first quarter, official data showed on Wednesday, building the case for further stimulus from policymakers.
Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 7 percent in the three months to March from the year ago period, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, in line with the forecast in a Reuters poll and lower than the 7.3 percent print in the previous quarter.
This is the worst showing since first quarter of 2009, during the height of the financial crisis, when growth pace slowed to 6.6 percent.
Quarter on quarter, the economy grew 1.3 percent, a touch lower than the 1.4 percent estimate and versus 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter.
Other data released with the GDP broadly missed expectations. Industrial output grew 5.6 percent in March from the year before, worse than the 10.9 percent expected, while retail sales rose 10.2 percent on year, shy of the 10.9 percent forecast.
The fixed asset investment in the January-March period climbed 13.5 percent, short of the 13.8 percent expected rise.
The Australia dollar tumbled following the slew of data, falling to a low of 0.7583 against the dollar from $0.7604 before, and briefly touching 90.78 yen. China's Shanghai Composite index ticked down 0.2 percent, while Hong Kong stocks gave up gains to dip marginally into negative territory.
"As expected, China's real estate slump and lethargic heavy industry continue to drag on domestic demand," said Bill Adams, senior international economist for PNC Financial Services Group.
"Chinese nominal household expenditures also grew relatively slowly in the first quarter, although some of the moderation in nominal consumer spending is surely the price effect of cheaper gasoline and diesel."
The world's second largest economy has been battling a weak external environment, sluggish domestic demand and a slowing property sector. GDP last year slowed to 7.4 percent, the slowest rate since 1990, and Beijing has set 2015 growth target at "around 7 percent."