China's inflation rose to a 37-month high in July, adding to pressure on Chinese leaders to cool living costs while keeping economic growth on track as the US and European outlook worsens.
Consumer prices in the world's second-largest economy rose 6.5 per cent over a year earlier, up from June's 6.4 per cent, data showed Tuesday. That was driven by a 14.8 per cent jump in food costs, up from June's 14.4 per cent and leaving the inflation rate well above the government's 4 per cent target for the year.
The jump in prices came despite a slowdown in manufacturing and other economic activity in July following repeated interest rate hikes and other curbs imposed to cool an overheated economy.
Beijing has to strike a difficult balance between stopping inflation and easing controls to support Chinese companies as US and European demand weakens, said IHS Global Insight analyst Alistair Thornton.
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"They're in a really tough position now," Thornton said. "If they want to start loosening [monetary policy] and buoying up growth, they could face the risk of compounding higher-than-desired inflation."
Analysts blame the inflation spike on the dual pressures of consumer demand that is outstripping food supplies and money surging through the economy from a bank lending boom that helped China ward off the 2008 global crisis.
Rising prices, especially for food, are politically dangerous for the Communist Party because they erode economic gains that underpin its claim to power. Beijing is trying to rein in economic growth that surged to 9.5 per cent in the quarter that ended in June just as the US, Japan and other governments are struggling to shore up their own lagging economies.
Some observers had expected at least one more Chinese rate hike this year but analysts said that now looked unlikely due to uncertainty following Standard & Poor's downgrade of US sovereign debt.
"This is the kind of data that should trigger [an] interest rate hike, but the turmoil in global financial markets will probably delay the action," said Wei Yao, China economist for Societe General, in a report.
A survey by HSBC released earlier showed manufacturing contracted in July for the first time this year. HSBC's purchasing managers index fell to a 29-month low of 49.3 on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 show activity contracting.
Inflation has climbed steadily despite five interest rate hikes since October 2010 and government curbs on lending and investment. Analysts expected it to peak by mid-year and then decline, but prices for meat and vegetables spiked up after summer floods wrecked crops in China's south and east.