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Economy Up 11.1% in 1st Quarter
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The Chinese economy has started 2007 on a strong note, expanding by 11.1 percent in the first quarter.

But fears that the rapid economic growth will drive interest rates higher weighed on the stock markets yesterday.

Data showing inflation rising to 3.3 percent in March cemented expectations that tighter monetary policy will be needed to cool the overheating economy.

Stocks fell nearly 5 percent in Shanghai as a delay to the data release fueled fears of an even stronger number.

The gross domestic product (GDP) reached 5.03 trillion yuan (US$653 billion) in the first quarter, according to latest figures provided by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) yesterday.

It was 0.7 percentage points higher than that for the first quarter of 2006, and 0.4 percentage points higher than that for the whole of last year.

"The national economy is picking up in an all-round way," Li Xiaochao, spokesman for NBS, told a news conference. "Except for fixed-asset investment, all major economic indicators have shown signs of acceleration."

The growth rate of investment in fixed assets dropped. 

In the first quarter, the country's fixed-asset investment rose by 23.7 percent year-on-year.

The growth rate was 4 percentage points lower compared with that for the same period last year.

However, rapid growth in consumption and exports fueled economic expansion.

The nation's retail sales were up 14.9 percent year-on-year to 2.12 trillion yuan (US$275 billion), 2.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier.

Between January and March, foreign trade topped US$457.7 billion, up 23.3 percent year-on-year.

The total included US$252.1 billion in export value, up 27.8 percent, and US$205.6 billion in import value, up 18.2 percent. More notably, the country's trade surplus reached US$46.4 billion, almost double the figure for the same period last year.

Less reliance on fixed-asset investment as the major growth engine was seen as a healthier development for the fast-growing national economy, according to the spokesman.

While the national economy kept steady and maintained fast growth, rising inflation has become a cause for concern.

According to the bureau, China's consumer price index (CPI), a major gauge of inflation, climbed 3.3 percent in March, the highest in more than two years, fueling market expectations that tighter monetary policy will be needed to cool the economy.

"If this type of fast growth continues, there is the possibility of shifting from fast growth to overheating. There is that risk," admitted Li.

Meanwhile, both urban and rural residents saw a rapid increase in incomes, Li said.

In the first quarter, the per capita disposable income of urban residents rose 19.5 percent, or 16.6 percent in real terms, to 3,935 yuan (US$509), and the cash income of rural dwellers was up 15.2 percent, or 12.1 percent in real terms, to 1,260 yuan (US$163). The later is the fastest in a decade.

(China Daily April 20, 2007)

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