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China's economy slows down further
Data for April shows sharper than expected declines in investment and industrial production.
Last Modified: 11 May 2012 09:25
Economists say more aggressive action may be needed to get China's economy back on track [Reuters]

China's economy is slowing down further, national figures suggest, with data for April showing sharper than expected declines in investment and industrial production.

A reading of the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Friday suggests more aggressive action may be needed to get the world's second-largest economy back on track, economists said.

In particular, industrial production rose 9.3 per cent from a year earlier in April, slowing from a nearly 12 per cent increase in March.

However, the data also showed inflation eased to 3.4 per cent in April from 3.6 per cent the month before, giving the government greater leeway to ease policy to boost growth.

Single digits

"China’s economy is even weaker than thought, with industrial production growth back in single digits for the first time since the global financial crisis and electricity production flat lining," Alistair Thornton of IHS Global Insight said.

"We believe the government will step up efforts to stimulate the economy, even as genuine concerns remain regarding the very real possibility of over-stimulating," he said.

China's economy grew 8.1 per cent in the first quarter of the year, a still robust rate but its slowest pace since 2009. It was below the previous quarter's 8.9 per cent, but above the government's 7.5 per cent target for the year.

China's leaders face a challenge in keeping inflation under control while spurring growth. Rising pressures from wages and other costs are squeezing businesses. Consumers are feeling a pinch, too, as already high prices outstrip rising incomes.

Yang Kai, a 28-year-old patent attorney, recently moved from one eastern city, Hangzhou, to Xiamen, further south, aiming to be closer to his hometown and take advantage of more affordable housing. But price hikes are catching up with him.

"Moving was expensive. I guess that's because of higher fuel and labor costs. But prices for new appliances are also higher, though the most obvious example is food," Yang said.

"I still spend the same amount on food, but I don't go to good restaurants as often as before," he said.

Sharpening fears

Other data reported Friday showed investment in factory equipment and construction, so-called fixed-asset investment, rose 20.2 per cent in January-April. That compared with a 25.4 per cent rate of increase a year earlier.

Investment in real estate climbed 18.7 per cent, down from 34.3 per cent growth in the first four months of last year and from 23.5 per cent growth in January-March.

The figures come a day after China announced that its trade surplus widened in April as imports barely budged, sharpening fears the economy is not doing enough to stimulate domestic demand and counter a slowdown.

Already, there are signs that China's slowdown is hurting demand for oil, industrial components and consumer goods at a time when US and European growth are weak.

Last year's unexpectedly steep plunge in demand for China's exports due to US and European economic woes prompted communist leaders to reverse course and ease controls on bank lending to help struggling manufacturers.

Further easing measures are expected, with most analysts predicting the central bank will soon reduce reserve requirements for commercial banks.

Growth has fallen steadily since 2010 as a slump in global demand battered exporters and Beijing tightened lending and investment curbs to cool an overheated economy and surging inflation.

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