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Confidence boost for first-quarter growth

By Chen Jia  (China Daily)

08:20, March 20, 2013

PBOC surveys of entrepreneurs, bankers paint positive outlooks

China's entrepreneurs and bankers are showing strong confidence on economic growth in the first quarter, based on rebounding market demand and a stronger need for credit, which may fuel inflation in coming months, according to two separate reports from the country's central bank released on Tuesday.

An index gauging entrepreneurs' confidence on macroeconomic development has been boosted to 68 percent in the first quarter from 60.4 percent in the previous three months, compared with 59.2 in the third quarter of 2012, said the People's Bank of China.

The economic confidence snapshot was based on a survey involving 5,700 entrepreneurs across the industrial sector.

The confidence index has now increased for three consecutive quarters, but it was still 3.5 percentage points lower than the same period last year.

The central bank survey also suggested a strong recovery in industrial operations, with an index reading for that rising to 62.6 percent during the first three months from 61.8 percent in the last quarter of 2012, mainly because of a rise in domestic orders.

However, export orders remained down for the fourth straight quarter since April 2012, according to the PBOC.

In a separate PBOC survey, 3,100 bank executives also expressed high confidence in future economic growth, with an index reading of 72.2 percent during the January-March period, sharply up from 55.1 percent in the last quarter.

The central bank said about 70 percent of the bankers surveyed said they expected economic development to remain stable, while 25.4 percent forecast a more gloomy outlook.

The figures were in line with economists' predictions that in the first quarter China's GDP growth may accelerate to above 8 percent from 7.9 percent during the period from October to December.

David Carbon, an economist with DBS Bank Ltd, said China is likely to drive much of Asia's faster growth this year.

"We think the pickup will come mostly from investment. There were a lot of distractions in China last year - the leadership transition, high-profile criminal trials, international disputes over island territories - and investment growth was slower in 2012 than it was in 2009," said Carbon.

The PBOC bankers' survey indicated the number of new bank loans rose 77.4 percent in the first quarter, up 6.3 percentage points from three months earlier.

The National Bureau of Statistics plans to release the first quarter's economic indicators on April 15, which will be an important sign of economic growth this year.

Meanwhile, in another report released by the central bank, 62.1 percent of 20,000 residents polled said they felt it difficult to accept the current level of inflation, which has increased by 3.6 percentage points quarter-on-quarter.

The consumer price index, the main gauge of inflation, hit a 10-month high in Feburary, with a reading of 3.2 percent from 2 percent in January, according to the NBS.

The rise in food prices, particularly, surprised many.

Chang Jian, an economist with Barclays' Capital, said: "We expect neutral monetary policy with a bias toward tightening liquidity through open market operations.

"The bank regulator, the China Banking Regulatory Commission, is already tightening regulations on wealth management products and local government lending, as we expected," Chang said.

The Government Work Report has set the country's annual growth target to remain at 7.5 percent, with a reduction in the inflation target to 3.5 percent, and money supply growth at 13 percent.

Liu Ligang, chief economist in China with the ANZ Banking Group Ltd, predicts that this year's GDP growth year-on-year may reach 8.1 percent, higher than last year's 7.8 percent.

"Fueling inflation, and potential asset bubbles in the property market, as well as the unbalanced financial system, will be the significant challenges for the new government," he said.

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