China inflation exceeds forecasts as lockdowns roil supplies

The producer price index rose 8 per cent from a year earlier compared to 8.3 per cent in March. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China's factory gate prices rose faster than expected in April, while consumer prices climbed again as Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns last month drove food and fuel costs higher.

The producer price index rose 8 per cent from a year earlier compared with 8.3 per cent in March, official data showed on Wednesday (May 11), above the median estimate of a 7.8 per cent increase in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Consumer price growth accelerated to 2.1 per cent from 1.5 per cent in the previous month, faster than a projected 1.8 per cent gain.

While commodity prices are inching down from the very high levels spurred by the war in Ukraine, costs remain elevated and have squeezed manufacturers' profits. Covid-19 outbreaks in China and restrictions intended to contain them have indirectly added to operating costs, making it tougher for factories to maintain production, obtain raw materials and ship out finished goods.

The uptick in consumer inflation was attributable to virus outbreaks and higher global commodity prices, Mr Dong Lijuan, senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said in a statement accompanying the data.

Pinpoint Asset Management president and chief economist Zhang Zhiwei said: "Panic buying and stocking among consumers likely also pushed up demand. As supply chain disruption is gradually resolved, inflationary pressure may fade away."

Food became pricier last month as several areas locked down to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Fresh vegetable costs jumped 24 per cent from a year ago, compared with an increase of 17.2 per cent in March, NBS data showed.

Pork prices continued to fall, plunging 33.3 per cent.

A 28 per cent jump in fuel costs also contributed to higher consumer prices.

Prices of vehicle fuel rose the fastest of any metric within the consumer price index (CPI) basket, according to a breakdown provided by the NBS.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.9 per cent, compared with March's 1.1 per cent increase.

The lockdown in Shanghai threatens to exacerbate global supply chain pressures and inflation concerns, according to economists at Fitch Ratings.

The economists cited a plunge in Shanghai freight traffic volume in April and early May resulting in backlogs at the port of Shanghai as contributors to those issues, according to a research note published on Tuesday before China's inflation data was released.

"With Shanghai handling around a fifth of China's port volume and China accounting for 15 per cent of world merchandise exports, shortages of manufactured goods could intensify, adding to existing global inflationary pressures," the Fitch economists wrote.

"This channel is likely to outweigh the effect of slower growth in China on global inflation through a weakening of commodity demand and prices."

The decision to stand by a strategy built on strict Covid-19 curbs has led several economists to cut growth forecasts for the year to well below the government's target of about 5.5 per cent, as an unswerving commitment to Covid-Zero means more cities will lock down or mass test their citizens for as long as the virus is spreading.

The capital city Beijing, e-commerce hub Hangzhou and Yiwu, a city known for wholesaling Christmas decorations, have all rolled out restrictions to contain the virus.

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