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Thursday June 20, 2024

China’s consumer inflation edges upward in signal of slow economic recovery

By News Desk
May 12, 2024
Customers select eggs at a market in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province on April 16, 2024. – AFP
Customers select eggs at a market in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province on April 16, 2024. – AFP

Beijing: China’s consumer inflation edged higher in April while factory prices continued to slide, pointing to a continued rocky recovery in the world’s second-largest economy as Beijing battles lagging consumer demand and global trade tensions.

The national consumer price index rose 0.3 percent year on year in April, official statistics showed on Saturday, ticking up from an 0.1 percent rise in March, with price increases in areas including energy, education and tourism offsetting falling food costs.

China’s economy had been beset by flat or falling consumer prices for almost a year, with the country’s 1.4bn consumers widely opting to save instead of spend in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But a third straight month of consumer inflation in April suggested some stabilisation of domestic demand despite a years long crisis in the important real estate market.

The inflation reading — better than the 0.2 per cent predicted by economists surveyed by Bloomberg — came as President Xi Jinping leans on a manufacturing revival, particularly in high-tech industries, to boost economic growth and offset the property sector slowdown.

The strategy has stoked growing fears among western leaders of cheap Chinese imports flooding their markets, especially as declining prices in the country’s manufacturing sector make Chinese goods cheaper.

The data from the National Bureau of Statistics on Saturday showed prices in China’s industrial sector in April remained mired in negative territory. The producer price index declined by 2.5 per cent on a year earlier last month, after declining 2.8 per cent in March and 2.7 per cent in February.

Analysts said prices in the all-important manufacturing sector may be a better barometer of the true health of the economy.

“Chinese manufacturers have volume but they don’t have prices,” said Chen Long of Plenum, a Beijing-based research firm.

“GDP growth in real terms looks pretty decent, but then if you look at nominal GDP growth and corporate profits — they produce a lot, but they don’t make a lot of money because prices are falling,” he added.

Profits at Chinese companies listed on domestic exchanges were down 5 per cent year on year in the first quarter, excluding the financial industry, he noted.

Data released on Thursday showed the value of China’s exports in dollar terms rose 1.5 per cent year on year in April, but analysts said export growth in volume terms has been closer to 10 per cent or higher in recent months. The trend is driving renewed tensions with China’s most important trading partners, including the EU and the US.

French leader Emmanuel Macron and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier this week warned Xi on a visit to the continent that the EU needed to protect itself from cheap Chinese imports. In the US, the Biden administration is planning to raise tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles and other green energy imports next week.

In response, Xi has brushed off western leaders’ concerns. He told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last month that China’s exports were helping to ease global inflation, and this week told European leaders that China did not have an overcapacity problem.