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Chinese Inflation: A Mounting Problem (Update)

March 12th, 2008 Michael McDonough

The US isn’t alone when it comes to inflationary concerns. Chinese consumer prices continue setting new interim highs, and it is not going unnoticed. February’s CPI number came in at 8.7%y/y vs. 7.1%y/y in January. It is important to keep in mind this reading includes the adverse effects of severe winter weather and the Chinese New Year holiday. However, even after these events are factored out the reading remains well above comfortable levels (prices have been trending up since early 2007 from a level of around 1.4%y/y). The data has begun to raise a lot of eyebrows within the Chinese government. Recently, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was quoted as saying, “The current price hikes and increasing inflationary pressures are the biggest concern of the people.” So what does it mean?

Inflation continues trending up; as one response we expect policy makers to speed up the appreciation of the RMB

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China & People’s Bank of China

We believe Chinese policy makers will address the rising trend in inflation using the following three policy tools: 1) The Central Bank will increase interest rates, which it hasn’t done since December 07; 2) they will allow the RMB to appreciate at a faster rate; & 3) they will implement new or stronger policies to reduce monetary growth. We also expect the government imposed price controls will remain in place for the foreseeable future. When push comes to shove we feel Chinese policy makers will choose price stability over growth. As we discussed in our last entry on this topic, from February 29th, food prices have been the primary driver behind Chinese inflation, but recently inflationary signs have started to emerge from the non-food sectors. The longer inflation remains elevated the bigger its effect on inflation expectations. In fact, according to a quarterly survey conducted by the People’s Bank of China, inflation expectations have already begun to rise (chart below). This could be bad news for policy makers since a rise in inflation expectations tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

*According to a survey conducted by the People’s Bank of China consumers inflation expectations have been increasing significantly with the rise in CPI

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China & People’s Bank of China

*Notes on the Survey of Urban Saving Account Holders (From the People’s Bank of China)- The People�s Bank of China conduct a quarterly sampling survey to urban saving account holders nationwide in the form of standardized questionnaire and interview in February, May,August, November each year. The sample size for each survey is 20,000. 4 diffusion indices are derived from the replies of interviewees in questionnaire survey, which reflect the attitudes of people towards current income and price conditions, and the expectations to future income and price trends.

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