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UPDATE 1-China Jan-Feb factory output, investment stronger than expected

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* China activity data points to solid Q1 economic growth

* Jan-Feb fixed-asset investment +7.2 pct y/y (poll +7.0 pct)

* Industrial output +7.9 pct y/y (poll +6.1 pct)

* Retail sales +9.7 pct y/y (poll +9.8 pct)

* Private sector investment +8.1 pct

BEIJING, March 14 (Reuters) - China's industrial output expanded faster than expected at the start of the year, suggesting the world's second-biggest economy has sustained solid momentum despite a crackdown on polluting industries and a campaign to reduce risks in the financial system.

Fixed asset investment also handily beat forecasts, while retail sales growth improved from December but came in slightly below expectations for the first two months of the year.

Industrial output rose 7.2 percent in the first two months this year from the same period a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday, surpassing analysts' estimates for a rise of 6.1 percent and picking up sharply from 6.2 percent in December.

However, data from China early in the year is typically treated with caution due to distortions caused by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year celebrations, which fell in late January 2017 but started in mid-February this year.

As such, a clearer picture of China's economic health may not emerge until first-quarter data is released in April.

Many economists expect momentum to slow this year. But a clutch of readings so far, ranging from official data to private surveys, suggest China's growth is still resilient, keeping a synchronized global recovery on track.

Trade data last week showed exports unexpectedly surged at the fastest pace in three years in February even as trade relations with the United States rapidly deteriorate.

China's fixed-asset investment growth unexpectedly picked up to 7.9 percent in January-February. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted it would cool to 7.0 percent from a 7.2 percent pace in all of 2017.

Private sector fixed-asset investment rose 8.1 percent, compared with an increase of 6.0 percent in 2017. Private investment accounts for about 60 percent of overall investment in China.

Retail sales rose 9.7 percent, slightly missing expectations of 9.8 percent growth but up from 9.4 percent in December.

Premier Li Keqiang said last week China aims to expand its economy by around 6.5 percent this year, the same target that it handily beat in 2017 thanks in part to massive government infrastructure spending and record bank lending.

But comments by top officials at China's parliament in the past week suggested that Beijing will be more cautious about spending this year while it focuses on reducing the risks from a rapid build-up in debt.

(Reporting by Kevin Yao and Cheng Fang; Writing by Elias Glenn; Editing by Kim Coghill)