China output and retail data adds to slowdown fears

Man biking in front of skyline Recent data from China has led to fears of a slowdown in the region

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China's industrial output rose 8.6% in January and February, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Retail sales - a key measure of consumer spending - also increased 11.8% from the year before, government figures show.

The figures were less than analysts had been expecting, adding to fears of a slowdown.

Markets in Asia fell on the news, with both Hong Kong's Hang Seng and the Shanghai composite dropping.

Fixed-asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, expanded 17.9%.

The reporting period includes the Chinese Lunar New Year, which fell during both months.

Threat continues

The data comes as China's leaders wrap up their parliamentary session, known as the National People's Congress (NPC).

During the session, the government unveiled plans to push ahead with a pilot programme of privately-owned banks, in order to help open up the financial sector.

At the start of the NPC earlier this month, China's Premier, Li Keqiang, announced that the government was expecting the economy to expand at the rate of 7.5% this year, which is the same target rate as last year.

However, he added on Thursday that there was some flexibility on that target for 2014 and that the Chinese government's main concern was jobs.

Nonetheless, there are worries about the pace of growth in the Chinese economy, after the country's exports dropped by 18% in February from the previous year, leading to a trade deficit of $23bn for the month.

The threat of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy led to falls in Australian stocks this week, particularly mining and resources stocks, which rely heavily on China's commodities demand.

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