China’s retail sales rise for the first time in 2020

People shop at a mall in Beijing on August 14, 2020.

Nicolas Asfouri | AFP | Getty Images

BEIJING — Chinese consumers stepped up their spending in August, in a sign of further economic recovery from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.

Retail sales rose 0.5% in August from a year ago, the first positive report for the year so far, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said Tuesday. Notably, sales of communication equipment rose 25.1% from a year ago and that of autos rose 11.8%.

Retail sales for the first eight months of the year were down 8.6% from a year ago, the bureau said. Online retail sales of physical goods grew by 15.8% during that time, the data showed.

The unemployment rate as measured by the official survey of cities was 5.6%, 0.1 percentage points lower than July, the bureau said.

However, pressure on employment remains relatively high, Fu Linghui, a spokesperson at the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a press conference Tuesday, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

Fu pointed to data that showed China’s record high 8.74 million university graduates still had difficulty finding jobs.

Instead of following a typical trend of moderating in August from July, an unspecified unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds holding at least a college degree — primarily new graduates — was 5.4 percentage points higher in August from the same period last year, Fu said. That figure was also higher than the 3.3 percentage point year-on-year increase reported for July.

Industrial production grew 5.6% in August from a year ago.

Fixed-asset investment declined 0.3% for the first eight months of the year. It was not immediately clear what the year-on-year figure for August was.

“The stronger-than-expected activity data in August support our recent decision to raise our Q3 and Q4 growth forecasts to 5.2% y-o-y and 5.7%, respectively,” Nomura’s chief China economist Ting Lu said in a note. “However, headwinds remain as pent-up demand will likely lose some steam, medical product exports may have peaked, Beijing is determined to cool property markets, some social distancing measures within China are likely to extend into H2, and rising US-China tensions could dent China’s exports and manufacturing investment.”

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