In line with market expectations, China's consumer prices increased 5.5 percent in October from a year earlier, registering the slowest pace in five months as the result of falling food prices and accumulated effects of tightening monetary policies.
The sharp pullback of CPI from July's three-year peak of 6.5 percent showed government's macro-economic control efforts have bore fruits, leaving more room for policy makers to fine tune tightening policies to boost economic growth.
But, does the easing inflation mean it is time to relax the tight monetary policy? Analysts cautioned that China could face resurgent inflationary pressure if it loosens monetary policy too soon and tweaks to fiscal policy may be the preferred way to help an economy feeling the chill of global slowdown.
Inflation turning point comes
China's consumer price index (CPI), the main gauge of inflation, rose 5.5 percent year-on-year in October, according to the data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Wednesday.
Though the October's CPI is still at a high level, the figure marked the slowest surge since May this year, softening from 6.1 percent in September, 6.2 percent in August, 6.5 percent in July and 6.4 percent in June, sending a strong signal that the inflation turning point has come at long last.
The food prices, the driving force behind the price hikes, have seen sharp declines.
Food prices, which account for nearly one third of the basket of goods in the nation's CPI calculation, moved up 11.9 percent in October from a year earlier but dipped 0.2 percent month-on-month, according to the NBS.
Farm produce prices in China continued to fall for the week ending on Nov. 6, according to a report released by the Ministry of Commerce on Tuesday.
Wholesale prices of 18 staple vegetables dropped by an average of 2.2 percent from the previous week. It was the fourth straight week that vegetable prices fell, marking an aggregate 11.3 percent drop over the past four weeks, the report said.
Meanwhile, eight types of seafood products saw an average price decline of 0.4 percent week-on-week, and the prices of pork and eggs fell 1.8 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.
Pork prices have dropped 6.4 percent since mid-September, the report said.
Analysts said that the lower inflation rate showed that government efforts to curb prices had begun to take effect. "The government's priority to stabilize prices and contain inflation has already achieved fruitful results," said Yao Jingyuan, the former chief economist with the National Bureau of Statistics.
"During the remaining two months of this year, the consumer prices will go down further," Yao added. "The CPI for November and December will be below 5%, or maybe drop to about 4%. Because the declining trend of food prices is continuing with the further price fall of pork, eggs and vegetables."
Yao estimated that overall, the price control policies pursued in the first half of this year will have delayed positive effects on the prices for the last two months, or extending to the first quarter, or even through the whole of 2012
"It is a clear signal that prices are entering a declining cycle and monetary policy has managed to achieve an economic soft landing," said Lu Zhengwei, chief economist of Industrial Bank Co Ltd, forecasting that CPI for November and December will fall down to 5.0% and CPI for the whole year would be in a 5.4 -5.6 percent range.
"The October CPI data showed that the government's price control efforts have started to pay off," said Zhang Liqun, a macroeconomic researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council, or China's Cabinet.
A research report published by the Bank of Communications pointed out that the inflation turning point has arisen within the year, with prices continuing to fall until early next year.
Lu Zhiming, a researcher with the Bank of Communications, attributed the weakening inflation to price declines in farm and non-farm products and accumulated efforts of monetary tightening introduced in previous months, as well as commodity price drops resulting from the lingering European debt crisis.
"Prices are now on a downward trend and the CPI reading will weaken further in the fourth quarter, bringing the full-year CPI rate to around 5.5 percent," Lu said.
Over the next two years, the average inflation rate will fall to between 2.8 percent and 4 percent, but the government should be vigilant in countering inflation risks in the medium and long term, he added.