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China’s Economy Picks Up Speed as Shoppers, Moviegoers Return

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BEIJING—China’s economic recovery accelerated in August, with retail sales, the last holdout among the economy’s major components, returning to pre-coronavirus levels by showing their first month of growth this year.

Other major indicators, including factory production, investment and property activity, all gathered pace, China’s state-run statistics bureau said Tuesday, signaling a robust rebound for the world’s second-largest economy. The main official measure of joblessness, the urban surveyed unemployment rate, edged down to 5.6%, the lowest since it stood at 5.3% in January, when the coronavirus began to affect hiring. That is comfortably below the government’s targeted ceiling of around 6% for the year and down from the record high of 6.2% in February.

The economic rebound has been supported by recovering global demand for Chinese-made goods and Beijing’s measures to boost growth. Gross domestic product in the second quarter was up 3.2% from a year earlier, following a historic 6.8% decline the quarter before.

But consumption was conspicuously not among the robust measures—notably, industrial production and government-led infrastructure investment—in part because Beijing focused on restarting factories and businesses. In the U.S., where the federal government delivered stimulus checks and supplemental unemployment benefits, retail sales returned to year-over-year growth in June, and added to their gains in July.

Lagging retail sales in China had raised concerns among economists about a “two-track” recovery—a worry for policy makers given the service sector’s increasing role in driving China’s overall economy. Economists had predicted a return to year-over-year growth in retail sales for months, but were repeatedly wrong. For August they forecast a bare-minimum 0.1% rise, and were finally wrong on the low side: Sales were up 0.5% from a year earlier, a strong improvement from July’s 1.1% drop.

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