China said its politically sensitive inflation rate accelerated in June to the highest level in three years, as the government struggles to rein in soaring food costs.
The country's consumer price index rose 6.4 percent in June, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement on Saturday, the highest level since June 2008 when the inflation rate reached 7.1 percent.
The June reading -- higher than the 5.5 percent in May and well above the government's annual target of four percent -- is likely to fuel concern among policymakers anxious about inflation's potential to trigger social unrest.
China has been struggling to tame inflation despite restricting the amount of money banks can lend on numerous occasions and hiking interest rates five times since October -- most recently on Wednesday.
Food prices in June were up 14.4 percent year-on-year, while the price of pork, China's preferred choice of meat, was up 57.1 percent during the period, the bureau said.
"The higher-than-expected CPI inflation in June could be market positive because it increases the chance for CPI inflation to peak in June," Lu Ting, a Hong Kong-based China economist for Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, said in an email.
"We expect CPI inflation to fall steadily after June to around 4.0-4.5 percent at year-end and then will stay there for a couple of years."
Economist Mark Williams at Capital Economics told Dow Jones Newswires ahead of the data release that "although we are still expecting inflation to come down, the confidence with which we hold that view is probably lower than it was a few weeks ago."
China's producer price index (PPI) for June, a measure of inflation at the wholesale level, was up 7.1 percent year-on-year, the bureau said, up from 6.8 percent in May.
But measures taken by the government in recent months to slow economic growth and contain inflation appeared to be working, Ken Peng, Beijing-based economist for BNP-Parisbas told AFP.
"Because of the growth slowdown we are more confident that inflation in the second half will also wane," Peng said.
"I think we shall see a rebound (in economic growth) by the fourth quarter."
Gross domestic product in the world's second-largest economy expanded 9.7 percent on year in the first three months of 2011, easing from the 9.8 percent growth rate posted in the final quarter of 2010.
The National Bureau of Statistics is scheduled to release second half growth data on Wednesday next week, while the nation's customs authority will release trade numbers Sunday.
Premier Wen Jiabao reportedly admitted last month that it would be difficult to keep inflation within the government's target for 2011, but added fighting rising prices remained a priority.
The government has said it expects price pressures to ease in the second half.
Some analysts are concerned Beijing might go too far in tightening monetary policy and trigger a sharp slowdown in the world's second largest economy -- which could have dire consequences for the world.
Growth in China's manufacturing activity almost stalled in June and year-on-year auto sales have fallen for two straight months.