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Monday, May 12, 2008

China Inflation April 2008

China’s consumer price inflation clung near a 12-year high in April, maintaining pressure on the government to stick to its tight policy stance in spite of softening global growth. As a result China has today once more instructed banks to set aside more deposits as reserves, this is now the fourth time so far this year such action has been taken. Banks must place a record 16.5 percent of deposits with the central bank, up from the previous 16 percent, the People's Bank of China said today on its Web site.

Apart from February’s reading of 8.7 per cent, inflation was last higher in May 1996, when the rate was 8.9 per cent. Food prices, which make up a third of the consumer basket, have been the overwhelming driver of inflation. They rose 22.1 per cent in April from a year earlier, though weekly government reports on fresh food prices have showed a slight dip in May. Non-food prices rose 1.8 per cent in April from a year earlier, the same as in March.

Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s central bank governor, said on Saturday that the country would give precedence to tackling inflation over targeting growth or employment. Today's increase in reserve deposits will freeze about 208 billion yuan ($30 billion) in the banking system, in an attempt to cool the world's fastest-growing major economy by restraining lending. However 7.5 percentage points of increase in the requirement since the start of last year has so far failed to stop the lending growth that is fuelling both the expansion and all this inflation, so it is extremely unlikely that an additional o.5 percentage point raise at this juncture will do the trick.

And even as easing food prices give some grounds for thinking that the worst on this front may be over, pipeline pressures have now been steadily builting up at the producer price level, and the producer price index, or best available measure of factory-gate inflation, hit a three-and-a-half year high of 8.1 per cent in April. This followed an 8 percent gain in March and was the quickest pace since November 2004. Thus there may be a whole stream of "second round" effects still to come.

Producer prices of ferrous metals jumped 24.8 percent in April from a year earlier, after rising 21.2 percent in March, the statistics bureau said. Gasoline prices climbed 10.8 percent after gaining 9.9 percent and clothing costs increased 2.3 percent after climbing 2 percent.

Higher wages and energy and commodity costs led a third of manufacturers to raise prices in April, according to a survey by CLSA of more than 400 purchasing managers. The Labor Contract Law, imposed on Jan. 1, mandates minimum wages and limits overtime work. The average wage in Chinese urban areas climbed 18 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to 6,524 yuan ($932).

The government declared it would tighten monetary policy this year to fight inflation, but it has yet to raise interest rates after six increases in 2007.

Instead, it has drawn on an array of tools, from bank lending curbs to faster yuan appreciation – the central bank last Monday set the highest daily reference rate for the yuan, 6.8920 per dollar, since it ended a fixed peg to the US currency in July 2005.

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