Now that China’s March inflation numbers have come in higher than expected – at 3.6 per cent year over year, up from 3.2 per cent the previous month – some of the dedicated souls who track Chinese data are warning that officials will cease their monetary easing and put other stimulus plans on the back-burner.
But the fact is, Beijing is far more worried about an economic slowdown than a modest bump in inflation, which, in any case, remains below the government’s 4 per cent target.
The top priority is keeping a lid on social unrest, which is bound to worsen as the economy slides to what officials still hope will be a soft landing in the 7.5 to 8 per cent range. That’s why they will proceed with plans to boost spending on state projects and to ramp up banks’ small business lending at cheap rates.
The latest trade numbers should buoy their spirits a bit. After a couple of weak months, exports climbed 8.9 per cent, year over year, in March, slightly better than forecast. Shipments to the U.S. jumped by 14 per cent. But trade with Europe and much of the emerging world continued to shrink. And imports climbed by only 5.3 per cent. This was lower than expected and ought to dampen speculation that the domestic market is poised to pick up the slack as exports to the U.S. falter.
On Friday, we’ll get a look at first-quarter GDP, which the government expects will be slower – down to 8.4 per cent from 8.9 per cent the previous quarter. Some private-sector economy watchers say the figure could be as low as 8.1 per cent. Those would be terrific numbers anywhere but China, where growth of even 7 per cent would feel like a serious recession.