China's factory gate prices rise at the fastest rate in over 3 years

The producer price index, a gauge of industrial profitability, rose 6.8% in April from a year earlier

FILE - In this April 8, 2021 file photo, a container port on the Yangtze River is seen in an aerial view in Nantong in eastern China's Jiangsu province. China reported that its April imports and exports surged over the same month in 2020 as global demand strengthens. (Chinatopix via AP, File)

China's factory gate prices rose at the fastest rate in three and a half years in April, data showed on Tuesday, adding to inflation concerns as the world's second-largest economy gathers momentum after strong growth in the first quarter.

The producer price index (PPI), a gauge of industrial profitability, rose 6.8 per cent from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said, ahead of a 6.5 per cent rise tipped by a Reuters poll of analysts and a 4.4 per cent rise in March.

Investors globally are increasingly worried that pandemic-driven stimulus measures could spark a rapid rise in inflation and force central banks to raise interest rates and take other tightening measures, potentially holding back economic recovery.

However, while producer prices are soaring, analysts said the rising costs were unlikely to be fully passed on to consumers. April's consumer price index (CPI) rose by a modest 0.9 per cent on a year earlier.

"We still expect much of the recent surge in upstream price pressure to prove transitory, with industrial metal prices likely to drop back later this year as a tighter policy stance weighs on construction activity," Capital Economics analysts said in a note.

"We don't think inflation will rise to the point where it triggers a major policy shift" by China's central bank, they added.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly said they will avoid sudden policy shifts that could derail economic recovery, but are slowly normalising policy and clamping down on property speculation in particular.

The sharp jump in producer prices included an 85.8 per cent surge in oil and natural gas extraction from a year ago, while ferrous metals processing rose 30 per cent, said Dong Lijuan, senior NBS statistician in a statement accompanying the data release.

Consumers could see some price rises ahead from a global chip shortage affecting goods such as home appliances, cars and computers, said Iris Pang, Greater China chief economist at ING.

"We believe that the chip price increase has already pushed up prices of fridges, washing machines, TVs, laptops and car prices in April, which increased 0.6 per cent -1.0 per cent month-on-month," she said.

Even as producer prices surged, the consumer inflation remained mild. April's 0.9 per cent CPI increase was up on a 0.4 per cent rise in March, driven mostly by gains in non-food prices as the services sector recovered. However, it missed analysts' expectations for a 1.0 per cent rise.

Sheng Laiyun, a deputy director at NBS, said on Friday that China's full-year CPI is likely to be significantly below the official target of around 3 per cent.

Mr Sheng attributed China's likely muted inflation to currently slow core inflation, economic fundamentals where supply has outstripped demand, relatively restrained macropolicy support and a limited pass-through effect from PPI to CPI.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, rose 0.7 per cent in April, up from 0.3 per cent in March.

Food inflation remained weak. Prices dropped by 0.7 per cent from a year earlier, unchanged from the previous month.

China's gross domestic product expanded by a record 18.3 per cent in annual terms in the first quarter as the country recovers from the devastating impact of Covid-19.

Many economists expect China's GDP growth to exceed 8 per cent in 2021, although some warn that continuing global supply chain disruptions and higher comparison bases will sap some momentum in coming quarters.