By Elias Glenn
BEIJING (Reuters) - Despite a more upbeat view of the first quarter, economists still expect China's economic growth to slow to 6.5 percent this year, with a regulatory crackdown and a growing trade dispute with the United States seen as key risks, a Reuters poll showed.
The full-year forecast, according to 72 institutions surveyed by Reuters last week, is unchanged from the last outlook published in January.
Since the last poll, China reported 2017 growth of 6.9 percent, while readings for early 2018 have largely been better than expected despite twin campaigns to contain risks to the financial system and reduce industrial air pollution.
Economists raised their outlook for first quarter growth to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent in the last poll in January, which would be only marginally softer than the 6.8 percent pace in the previous two quarters.
China will post its first-quarter GDP and March activity data on Tuesday at 0200 GMT.
The government has kept its economic target for this year unchanged at "around 6.5 percent", and economists see it coming in right on target as growth slows from a high point in the first quarter.
Growth next year will likely cool further to 6.3 percent, according to the survey.
Despite slower growth, most economists expect China to keep its monetary policy largely unchanged this year, with those expecting further tightening outnumbering those expecting a loosening in conditions.
Analysts expect the People's Bank of China (PBOC) to keep its benchmark lending rate unchanged at 4.35 percent through at least the end of 2019, the Reuters poll showed.
However, they have raised expectations for the size of a cut in the amount of cash that banks are required to hold as reserves - the reserve requirement ratio (RRR).
The central bank is forecast to cut RRR for all banks by 50 basis points (bps) in the fourth quarter to 16.50 percent, versus the January poll's prediction for a 25-bps cut in the quarter.
Analysts now also expect two additional 25 bps cuts to RRR next year - one in each of the first two quarters - to bring the rate down to 16.00 percent.
Economists also predicted annual consumer inflation to be 2.3 percent this year, unchanged from the estimate in January. That rate is likely to hold through 2019, the poll showed.
Analysts say the biggest risk to China's economy at the moment is rising trade frictions with its biggest export market, the United States.
Ninety percent of respondents said that the trade dispute will be damaging to China's economy.
Washington and Beijing have announced tit-for-tat tariff plans in recent weeks, but neither has set a hard timeframe for implementation of the measures, offering hope the two sides will be able to reach a compromise.
(For other stories from the Reuters global long-term economic outlook polls package, see)
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