By Kevin Yao and Gabriel Crossley
BEIJING, July 16 (Reuters) - China's economy returned to growth in the second-quarter after a deep slump at the start of the year, data showed on Thursday, as lockdown measures ended and policymakers stepped up stimulus steps to combat the shock from the coronavirus crisis.
The world's second-largest economy grew 3.2% in the second-quarter from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said.
The growth was faster than the 2.5% forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll, and followed a steep 6.8% slump in the first quarter, the first such contraction since at least 1992 when quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) records began.
The economy contracted 1.6% in the first six months from a year earlier, the data showed.
The GDP numbers are being closely watched around the world, especially as many countries continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic even as China has largely managed to contain the outbreak and has begun to restart its economic engines.
On a quarter-on-quarter basis, GDP jumped 11.5% in April-June, the National Bureau of Statistics said, compared with expectations for a 9.6% rise and a 10% decline in the previous quarter.
China's economy, the first in the world to be jolted by the coronavirus pandemic, has been recovering slowly in the past two months, though the bounce from the virus-induced downturn has been uneven.
While the economy is showing a steady recovery, a hard battle still lies ahead as the situation remains severe both at home and abroad, state radio quoted Premier Li Keqiang as saying on Monday.
Authorities are expected to maintain policy support in the second half, despite concerns over rising debt risks.
The government has rolled out a raft of measures, including more fiscal spending, tax relief and cuts in lending rates and banks' reserve requirements to revive the coronavirus-ravaged economy and support employment.
Rising coronavirus infections in some countries, including the United States, have overshadowed improved demand for Chinese exports while heavy domestic job losses and lingering health concerns have kept consumers cautious.
China's industrial output rose 4.8% in June from a year earlier, the data showed, quickening from a 4.4% rise in May. That marked the third straight month of growth for the vast sector, offering some relief to the economy as it tries to regain its footing.
But consumption remains weak, with retail sales down 1.8% on-year - the fifth straight month of decline and much worse than a predicted 0.3% growth, after a 2.8% drop in May.
Fixed asset investment fell 3.1% in the first half of the year from the same period last year, compared with a forecast 3.3% fall and a 6.3% decline in the first five months of the year.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao, additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Yawen Chen Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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