BEIJING (AFP, Reuters) - China's economy grew 7.3 per cent in the third quarter from a year earlier, a near six-year low for the world's second-largest economy but higher than the 7.2 per cent expected by analysts.
The figure for the July-September period announced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBR) on Tuesday is lower than the expansion of 7.5 per cent in the previous three months.
It is also the slowest since the 6.6 per cent recorded in the first quarter of 2009, in the depths of the global financial crisis.
"China's economy showed a good momentum of stable growth in the first three quarters of the year with progress made and quality improved," the NBS said in a statement. "However we should keep in mind that the internal and external environment is still complicated and the economic development still faces many challenges.
"We should maintain the continuity and the stability of macro policies and make anticipatory adjustments and fine-tuning in an appropriate and timely manner, so as to achieve a stable and sound development of the national economy."
China's economy is suffering from a deflating property bubble, a government crackdown on corruption and weak demand from Europe, prompting authorities to introduce monetary easing measures.
But officials were quick to put a largely positive spin on the GDP figure.
The economy showed "good momentum of stable growth" in the first three quarters, said NBS spokesman Sheng Laiyun, with "progress made and quality improved".
But he acknowledged that the third-quarter slowdown was partly due to "unexpectedly greater pains brought by the structural reform" which included "still pronounced overcapacity in traditional industries" and a correction in the property market this year.
"The internal and external environment is still complicated and the economic development still faces many challenges," he said.
The NBS said the economy expanded 7.4 per cent in the first nine months of the year, and Sheng said growth had remained in a "reasonable range" as, among other factors, job creation was stable.
China's official growth target for this year was set at about 7.5 per cent in March, the same as last year, though officials including Premier Li Keqiang have openly stated it could come in lower.
The NBS also said industrial production, which measures output at factories, workshops and mines, rose 8.0 per cent year-on-year in September. That was a rebound from a more than five year low of 6.9 per cent in August.
Retail sales, a key indicator of consumer spending, expanded 11.6 per cent in the same month, while fixed asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose 16.1 per cent on-year in the first nine months.