Asian stocks opened lower on Monday in cautious trade, as China posted higher-than-expected economic growth but officials still warned of “significant challenges ahead”. Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index was down 1.25pc in early trade, while Hong Kong and Sydney were closed for holidays. Stocks in Shanghai, which reported the first Covid-19 deaths since the start of its weeks-long lockdown, were slightly down. China’s largest city and economic powerhouse has stewed under a patchwork of lockdown restrictions this year amid the country’s worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic. The country reported first-quarter economic growth of 4.8pc, the National Bureau of Statistics said, as the pandemic threatens Beijing’s ambitious annual growth target. That figure was up from 4.0pc in the final months of 2021. The world’s second-biggest economy was already losing steam in the latter half of last year with a property slump and regulatory crackdowns. All of this adds to pressure on officials to meet the country’s full-year growth target of around 5.5pc, in a key year for President Xi Jinping who is eyeing another term in power. “We must be aware that with the domestic and international environment becoming increasingly complicated and uncertain, economic development is facing significant difficulties and challenges,” said NBS spokesman Fu Linghui. Oil prices, which have been elevated since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, were up again, with Brent Crude topping $112 a barrel. Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management said the rise was “likely to fuel inflation fears, and rate hike jitters around the meaningful Fed action required to snuff those fears out”. Russia is a major global oil and gas supplier, and — along with Ukraine — is also a key player in the grain sector. The conflict has shaken markets for these commodities, and the impact has been felt from the Middle East to South America. The war has sent oil prices soaring, with reports swirling about further energy sanctions on Russia. Central banks in several major economies including the United States, Canada and Britain have already started raising interest rates to contain prices, but the European Central Bank on Thursday kept its stimulus plans and rates unchanged.