China GDP growth slowest since 1990
China's economy grew 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, supported by higher government spending and record bank lending that has stoked concerns about an explosive rise in debt.
The world's second-largest economy expanded 6.7 percent in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday, roughly in the middle of the government's 6.5-7 percent growth target but still the slowest pace in 26 years.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected China would report 6.7 percent growth for both the fourth quarter and the full year. The economy grew 6.7 percent in the third quarter.
While China is on more solid economic footing than this time last year, it faces increasing uncertainties in 2017, with a housing frenzy showing signs of cooling and the impact of previous stimulus measures expected to fade.
The Chinese economy has cooled steadily as communist leaders try to steer it to more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment.
Beijing has relied on repeated infusions of credit to prevent activity from slumping too fast, prompting warnings the country's rapid run-up in debt could lead to a financial crisis or drag on growth.
Chinese leaders have cautioned that the country's economic performance in the near future will be "L-shaped," meaning the downturn is likely to end but growth is unlikely to rebound.
China's sluggish exports also could come under fresh pressure if US President-elect Donald Trump takes a more protectionist stance on trade, while its yuan currency is widely expected to depreciate further, weighing on its foreign exchange reserves.
Gross domestic product (GDP) in October-December rose 1.7 percent quarter-on-quarter from the previous three months, compared with growth of 1.8 percent in July-September, the bureau said.
This week, the International Monetary Fund raised its China growth forecast for this year by 0.3 percentage points to 6.5 percent but warned rising debt increases the risk of a sharper slowdown.