China's economy grew at a steady 6.4 per cent pace in the first quarter from a year earlier, defying expectations for a slowdown, as industrial output jumped sharply.

The upbeat readings, which also showed faster growth in retail sales and investment, are likely to add to optimism that China's cooling economy may be starting to stabilise, relieving some investor anxiety over sputtering global demand. But analysts say it is too early to call a sustainable turnaround, and further policy support is likely needed. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected growth to slow slightly to 6.3 per cent in the January-March quarter, the slowest pace in at least 27 years.

China's economy is seeing more positive factors at present, although it still faces many external uncertainties, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday in a statement along with the data. Industrial production jumped 8.5 per cent in March from a year earlier, the fastest pace in over 4-1/2 years. The reading easily beat analysts' estimates of 5.9 per cent and the 5.3 per cent seen in the first two months of the year.

Retail sales rose 8.7 per cent in March, also beating analyst's estimates of 8.4 per cent growth and the previous 8.2 per cent. Fixed-asset investment expanded 6.3 per cent in January-to-March from the same period a year earlier, in line with estimates of 6.3 per cent. Real estate investment rose 11.8 per cent in the first three months, quickening slightly from the 11.6 per cent gain in the January-to-February.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect China's economic growth to slow to a near 30-year low of 6.2 per cent this year, as sluggish demand at home and abroad and the Sino-U.S. trade war continues to weigh on activity despite a flurry of policy support measures. The government aims for economic growth of 6.0-6.5 per cent in 2019. On a quarterly basis, GDP in the first quarter grew 1.4 per cent, as expected, but dipping from 1.5 per cent in October-December.