China's GDP grows 11.9% in Q1, fueling overheating fears

19:59, April 15, 2010      

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China's economy expanded 11.9 percent year on year in the first quarter, indicating a solid recovery of the world's third largest economy, but also fanning concerns of asset bubbles.

The gross domestic product (GDP) in the first three months totaled 8.07 trillion yuan (1.19 trillion U.S. dollars), the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced Thursday.

The rise was 5.7 percentage points higher than the same period last year, when it dropped to 6.2 percent, the lowest in a decade, and was higher than the 10.7 percent of the fourth quarter last year.

"With the implementation of the stimulus package to combat the global economic downturn, the Chinese economy achieved a good start this year as the recovery momentum continues to consolidate, laying a solid foundation to meet the annual economic target (of 8 percent growth)," NBS spokesman Li Xiaochao said at a press conference on Thursday.

"The 11.9-percent growth in the first quarter is largely a result of last year's low comparison base, and the government's stimulus," Li said.

The better-than-expected growth was largely driven by domestic demand, as retail sales surged 17.9 percent year on year in the first quarter, and fixed-asset investment rose 25.6 percent.

"The growth is strong, and above potential, but there are signs of overheating," said Steven Green, head of research of Standard Chartered Bank (China).

He said with stimulus already partly ended, the key was whether the authorities could steer the economy on to a more sustainable growth path, or whether inflation or asset bubbles would occur in the second half of the year and trigger a bigger policy-induced slowdown in 2011.

Despite the rosy figures, government remained cautious. Li Xiaochao said economic conditions remained "very complicated" with many difficulties still existing.

The severe drought in southwest China and the rapid price increase of industrial products were challenges to achieving 8 percent annual growth, he said.

"The world economy is gradually reheating in an unbalanced manner and faces uncertainty, as commodity prices have risen sharply and many countries have reported sovereign debt crises," he said.

"Although the task is daunting and the difficulties are still there, 8 percent growth could be realized this year," he said.

In response to questions about the continuation of the stimulus package, Li said the government would keep the economic policy stable and consistent as problems and difficulties remained.

"We will also make policy-setting more flexible and targeted according to developments, such as increasing cost pressures for many businesses," he said.

After a cabinet meeting late Wednesday, the government said the proactive fiscal policy and relatively easy monetary policy would continue given the current "very complicated" economic conditions.

It also warned of real estate bubbles and other overheating industries, as housing prices were surging in cities, and the rising monetary and fiscal policy risks could not be ignored, said a statement issued after the meeting.

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