Sharp jump in food prices fuels Chinese inflation fears

BEIJING - Grocery shopping has become a painful experience for Zhang Xueyi. Meat prices have risen 50 percent in the past year, and eggs and other products are not far behind, forcing the 31-year-old railway technician's family to spend a third of its $400 monthly income on food.
calendar icon 20 August 2007
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"If prices go up more, we have to pay. We'll cut back somewhere else," said Zhang as he hefted bags of eggs, vegetables and rice from the market down a narrow Beijing lane.

After a run that has seen sizzling growth top 10 percent for four years, analysts say China's supercharged economy is facing strains that could break out into an upsurge of inflation.

So far the worst damage has been confined to food prices, which jumped 15.4 percent in July over the same month a year ago and drove overall inflation to a decade-high 5.6 percent. But wages are rising too, as are the costs of oil and electric power. Record-setting exports and a stock market boom are sending cash flooding through the economy, stoking demand for goods.

The Chinese economy "might have entered a region where we should be on guard," said a central bank official, Zhang Tao, quoted last week by the state newspaper China Securities Times.

If the trend goes unchecked, the impact could be felt abroad as consumers who depend on China as the world's low-cost factory have to pay more for appliances, shoes and other goods. Pinched Chinese consumers might spend less on foreign goods, widening a yawning trade surplus that has strained relations with Washington and other trading partners.

Economists say the latest price spike is due mostly to temporary shortages of pork, the staple meat whose price soared 86 percent in July from a year ago.

Source: Sioux City Journal
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