China's economic growth for the first three months of 2015 could well hit a multi-year low, experts say, increasing the pressure on Beijing to curb the marked slowdown.
Due on Wednesday, the world's second-largest economy is expected to show a 7 percent annual increase in its gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter , according to a Reuters poll, marking the slowest pace since the same period in 2009 and down from 7.3 percent in the previous three months.
The estimate is also lower than the country's 2014 growth of 7.4 percent - the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) that the mainland has seen in 24 years - but roughly in line with the "around 7 percent" target announced at the annual National People's Congress (NPC) last month.
Over the weekend, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said the nation faces increased downward pressure, which the government must "stand up to" in order to avoid an impact on employment and incomes.
"Real activity data were quite weak in the first two months this year. While some data, such as the purchasing managers' index (PMI), suggested that the momentum has picked up somewhat, other figures indicate that China [remains in a] difficult position," wrote Li-Gang Liu, ANZ's chief economist of Greater China, in a report. ANZ economists expect China's economy to expand only 6.9 percent in the first quarter.
Scheduled for release alongside the GDP data are figures for factory output growth, fixed asset investment and retail sales for March -- all of which could affirm the uncertainty over China's economic outlook.
More stimulus to come
To prop up the country's growth, especially in its all-important property sector, the People's Bank of China (PBoC) loosened mortgage restrictions and eased property transaction tax end of last month. Prior to that, the central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates in February, after reducing the one-year benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points and the one-year benchmark deposit rate by 25 basis points last November.
Still, recent economic indicators continue to paint a tepid recovery picture in the Asian economic giant.
Exports for March posted a wider-than-expected tumble of 14.6 percent from a year ago, due to weak global demand and the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday. Consumer prices steadied at 1.4 percent in the same month, but analysts say the flatlining of inflation suggests that China is still growing slower than expected - in spite of the recent measures.
This leaves the door open to further easing. "Recent stimulus measures may not necessarily be fully reflected in activity [hence] that raises the prospects of more targeted easing," Mizuho Bank's analysts said.
Asian investment bank CLSA agrees and expects the PBOC to follow up with another interest rate cut as early as this month.
"Post the NPC, the government will be more aggressive in supporting the economy, with a rate cut this month. We anticipate the second quarter to be a better quarter," Francis Cheung, head of China & Hong Kong strategy at CLSA, said.