The Chinese economy expanded 7.8 percent in 2012, the government said Friday - the worst performance in 13 years - in the face of weakness at home and in key overseas markets.

But gross domestic product (GDP) grew 7.9 percent in the final three months of the year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, as it snapped seven straight quarters of slowing growth.

China's GDP reached 51.9 trillion yuan ($8.28 trillion) in 2012, cementing its position as the world's second-largest economy after the United States.

Annual growth slowed for a second straight year but the figures were just ahead of expectations, with economists surveyed by AFP having projected GDP growth of 7.7 percent in 2012 and 7.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

The official statistics come as optimism grows among analysts that the economy will pick up steam in 2013 after two years of relative weakness. The AFP survey showed expectations of an acceleration to 8.0 percent growth this year.

In a statement the NBS said China's overall economic performance was “getting stabilised”.

“In the next phase we should... focus on changing the economic growth mode as the main theme and improving the quality and efficiency of economic growth at the core,” it said.

China's growth has slowed as the government took steps to cool a once red hot property market and amid weakness in the global economy, particularly the key export markets of the United States and Europe.

Zhang Zhiwei, China economist for Nomura International in Hong Kong, told AFP: “The data showed that the recovery is on track, but in the meantime inflation is picking up.

“So monetary policy will likely be tightened this year, with no chances of cuts in banks' reserve requirements or interest rates. As a result, GDP growth may slow down in the second half of this year.”

The annual growth figure was the lowest since 1999, when it stood at 7.6 percent, according to official statistics.

Growth had slowed for seven straight quarters through September, when the economy expanded 7.4 percent, the worst since early 2009. Annual GDP grew 9.3 percent in 2011 and 10.4 percent in 2010.

The statistics bureau also released other key indicators Friday.

Industrial production grew 10.0 percent in 2012 and 10.3 percent in December year-on-year. Retail sales, China's main gauge of consumer spending, increased 14.3 percent in 2012 and 15.2 percent in December.

Also, fixed-asset investment, a key measure of government spending on infrastructure, expanded 20.6 percent to 36.5 trillion yuan in 2012 Äaccounting for just over 70 percent of the economy. - Sapa-AFP