Fears that the Chinese economy is overheating mounted after official figures revealed that it grew faster than expected at the end of last year and inflation remained above target.
Southern Guangdong province, home to China’s biggest regional economy, added to concerns by announcing a 26 per cent rise in its minimum wage.
The national economy grew at an annual rate of 9.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2010, and by 10.3 per cent for the entire year.
Consumer price inflation fell to 4.6 per cent in December, after reaching a more than two-year high of 5.1 per cent the previous month.
But analysts said prices would accelerate strongly in the first quarter of this year, complicating efforts to cool the economy without triggering a sharp slowdown. For the whole year, consumer prices rose 3.3 per cent, above Beijing’s target of 3 per cent. Food prices were the main culprit, increasing 7.2 per cent.
“The growth figures will encourage Beijing to act more decisively on taming inflation, which means more interest rate hikes are just around the corner,” said Qu Hongbin, an economist at HSBC. The Shanghai Composite, China’s benchmark stock market index, dropped 2.9 per cent on Thursday amid fears of monetary tightening.
Inflation, labour shortages and a series of strikes in major industrial areas last year have led to minimum wage increases across China. This month the Beijing municipal government increased minimum wages by 21 per cent. Officials hope higher wages will increase domestic consumption and help China become less reliant on low-cost manufacturing, exports and investment for growth.
Geoffrey Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said the wage hike might not be enough to ease the labour shortages in Guangdong province, which accounts for much of the global production of everything from mobile phones to sports shoes.
Faced with rising inflation, Beijing has raised the amount banks must hold on reserve seven times over the past year, and increased interest rates twice in the fourth quarter. These attempts to rein-in loose monetary conditions have only been partially successful.
To get around tighter lending quotas, Chinese banks moved trillions of renminbi in loans off their balance sheets last year, repackaging them as wealth management products.
On Thursday, the Chinese banking regulator ordered banks to bring an estimated Rmb1,660bn ($252bn) of off- balance sheet lending back on to their books this year. Government attempts to manage liquidity have been further complicated by non-bank lending, which authorities have great difficulty quantifying.
According to a central bank survey, total non-bank lending amounted to about Rmb240bn last year, equivalent to 5.6 per cent of total lending. But central bank officials told the Financial Times that the true scale of informal and underground lending was likely much larger.
Learning to learn:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of raising wages for your employees？