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China's GDP growth falls to 14-year low at 7.7 percent

BEIJING -- China's economic growth decelerated in the final quarter of 2013 and appears set to slow further, adding to pressure on its leaders to shore up an expansion as they try to implement sweeping reforms.

The world's second-largest economy grew by 7.7 percent over a year earlier, down from previous quarter's 7.8 percent, data showed Monday. Growth for the full year was 7.7 percent, tying 2012 for the weakest annual performance since 1999.

Those figures appeared to mask a much sharper deterioration during the three months ending in December. Factory output, exports and investment all weakened. On a quarter-to-quarter basis, economic growth dropped to 1.8 percent from the previous period's 2.2 percent.

“The economy is slowing quite rapidly. The slowdown has accelerated during the quarter,” said economist Dariusz Kowalczyk of Credit Agricole CIB.

That weakness might force Beijing to resort to state-led investment to support an expansion. That would boost debt levels that already have prompted unease about the health of China's financial system and could hamper efforts to shift to more self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption.

China's growth still is far stronger than the United States, Japan or Europe. But an unexpectedly abrupt decline from the blistering double-digit rates of the previous decade has raised the risk of politically dangerous job losses and increases the challenges faced by the ruling Communist Party as it tries to rebalance the economy away from reliance on trade and investment.

“A long-term accumulation of problems has yet to ease and the foundation for economic stabilization and recovery is still consolidating,” said the commissioner of the government statistics bureau, Ma Jiantang, at a news conference.

A plunge in global demand for Chinese exports prompted Beijing to launch a mini-stimulus in mid-2013 based on higher spending on railway construction and other public works. Growth accelerated from 7.5 percent in the three months ending in June to 7.8 percent the next quarter but settled back as the effect of Beijing's spending faded.

Since then, Chinese leaders have said there is little that additional stimulus can do to spur growth and improvements will have to come from longer-term reforms.

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