China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 24 years in 2014 as a cooling property market weighed on demand and is expected to lose more momentum this year.
Analysts said a slightly better than expected performance in the fourth quarter could temper China's policy response, if the government believe the strains on the world's second-largest economy are easing.
China's economy grew 7.4% in 2014, official data showed today, barely missing its official 7.5% target but the slowest since 1990.
The Chinese economy had expanded by 7.7% in 2013.
Fourth-quarter growth held steady at 7.3% from a year earlier, marginally better than expected, though it cooled from the previous three months.
Few had expected China to meet its 7.5% full-year target, but the performance was better than feared at one point when credit collapsed, bad loans spiked and key activity indicators fell to multi-year lows.
A series of modest support measures from the government over the year helped stave off worries of a more dramatic slowdown, without fuelling a sharp rise in China's mountain of debt which the country's leaders are trying to avoid.
China's property market - a major driver of demand across a range of domestic industries - has proven stubbornly unresponsive to policy support, and lending data from the banking system shows enduring weakness despite policymakers' repeated and varied attempts to boost investment.
The weak property market and high funding costs remain key risks facing the economy in 2015.
Policymakers also are concerned about the potential onset of a deflationary cycle, aggravated by plummeting energy prices, industrial overcapacity and sluggish demand.
At the same time, there may be a looming crisis among debt-laden local governments which are facing strains from sliding property sales, on which they rely for much of their revenue.
In another worrying sign, power output growth in China, used by some as a proxy for economic performance, posted its slowest growth rate since 1998 at 3.2%.
December data posted numerous upside surprises after a weak November. Factory output rose 7.9% compared to expectations for 7.4%, while retail sales rose 11.9%, above predictions of 11.7%.
However, growth in fixed asset investment, a key growth driver, eased to 15.7% for the entire 2014 from the previous year, below forecasts for a 15.8% rise, hovering near a 13-year low.
Underscoring the drag on the economy from the housing sector, investment growth in property slowed to a five-year low and new construction slumped, even as sales improved at the end of the year.
A further slowdown in China could hinder the chances of a revival in global growth in 2015, which right now is being led by what the World Bank calls the "single engine" of strong hiring and activity in the US.
With China's growth seen cooling further to 7% this year or less, according to a Reuters poll, more support measures are still expected, though economists are divided over how much more will be needed.