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China vows stable growth, inflation management

China vows stable growth, inflation management

December 12th, 2010 by ELAINE KURTENBACH, AP Business Writer in News

SHANGHAI (AP) - China's leaders wrapped up an annual economic planning meeting Sunday with a pledge to cool surging inflation while shifting the economy toward more stable, balanced growth.

The vow to keep the economy on an even keel came a day after the government reported that inflation jumped to a 28-month high in November, despite a crackdown on speculation and repeated moves to curb the flood of money circulating in the economy from massive stimulus spending and bank lending.

A statement announcing the end of the conference, held each year in early December, reiterated previous pledges to support farmers, fight poverty, promote clean energy and various other sweeping goals. But the broad policy blueprint included no specific new policy measures.

In the coming year, which is due to begin a transition to a new generation of leaders, economic policies will be flexible, proactive and prudent, said the statement, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.

The aim is to maintain a balance between fast growth and stability.

"China is facing a complicated situation. Improving people's living standards and keeping social stability are still arduous tasks," said the statement, which was read on the evening state-run television news broadcast.

With their pledge of "greater policy emphasis" on price stability, the leaders endorsed continued tightening of monetary policy as a strategy for reining in excess bank lending, Jun Ma, an economist with Deutsche Bank, said in a report issued after the meeting ended.

"Overall, we think the work conference has reinforced the message that anti-inflation measures will be the main policy focus in the near term," it said.

The meeting also warned against "blindly launching new projects" as the country begins the new decade - and a new "five-year plan" for 2011-2015.

Chinese banks lent a total of 7.45 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) in January-November and are certain to overshoot the government's official lending target of 7.5 trillion yuan.

While the frenzy of lending over the past two years helped China rebound quickly from the global crisis, combined with bad weather and rising global commodity prices it has complicated efforts to cool inflation, which surged to 5.1 percent in November.

That was way above the government's original target of 3 percent and "beyond people's expectations," Sheng Laiyun, spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, said in announcing the data.

The increase, mainly blamed on higher costs for food and utilities, has raised expectations that China's central bank will go ahead with another interest rate hike, acting to slow growth at a time when the U.S. and Japan are still focusing on stimulus for their own lagging economies.

Mindful of the political turmoil linked to past bouts of inflation, Beijing has sought to reassure the public it has prices under control.

On Friday, China ordered banks to increase their reserves by 0.5 percent of deposits to help curb surging lending, the third reserve increase in five weeks.

China raised interest rates Oct. 19 for the first time since the crisis, highlighting the divergence of its robust expansion from the United States, Europe and Japan, which still are trying to shore up growth.

Such moves might not have much real impact given the still extremely low cost of lending for the country's state-owned banks, but they play a crucial symbolic role, says CLSA analyst Andy Rothman.

"It's a political signal they're on top of it," he said.

The ruling Communist Party's top body, the Politburo, had already set the tone for the work conference, announcing Dec. 3 that it was ordering a "prudent monetary policy" next year, a change from the "relatively easy" credit policy in place throughout the crisis.

China's rapid economic growth eased to 9.6 percent in the three months ending in September from a post-crisis high of 11.9 percent in the first quarter. It is expected to fall further in coming months but to stay strong.

In the longer term, the conference endorsed earlier pledges to boost imports and increase consumer spending - reforms needed to shift away from China's earlier reliance on export-led growth.

The statement also reiterated Beijing's earlier promises to carry on with reforms of its tightly controlled currency regime - a longtime source of friction with the U.S. and other trading partners that contend the Chinese yuan is undervalued against other major currencies, giving its manufacturers a price advantage in other markets.

Offering no hint of a change in policy direction, it just said China will keep the exchange rate "basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level."