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China consumer prices up 2.4% in March

China's consumer inflation came in a shade below expectations, showing domestic demand remains soft and raising speculation of government measures to support the economy.

China's consumer prices rose 2.4 percent in March from the year-ago period, official data showed on Friday, just shy of a Reuters poll for a 2.5 percent increase.

Month on month, prices dipped 0.5 percent, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, in line with expectations. Prices rose 0.5 percent in February from January.

Analysts say the figures are a poor showing considering Beijing's push to bolster domestic consumption and move away from investment-led growth

"There's a [government consumer] inflation target out for the year at 3.5 percent. So March's number is terribly below that target," said Sam Le Cornu at Macquarie Funds.

Meanwhile, producer prices continued to decline for a 25th straight month, falling 2.3 percent on year, worse than a Reuters forecast for a 2 percent dip.

Falling factory gate prices typically reflect lower raw material prices but could also be a gauge of demand and excess capacity.

Residents shopping in a supermarket on August 9, 2013 in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province of China.
ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images
Residents shopping in a supermarket on August 9, 2013 in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province of China.

"The worsening PPI deflation rate was led by producer goods, which fell 3 percent in March compared with 2.5 percent in February. In particular, the weakness in mining and raw materials continued," Jian Chang of Barclays said in a note.

The inflation figures strengthen the case for further stimulus measures from policy makers to support the economy and come after dismal March trade figures released on Thursday which showed both exports and imports undershooting forecasts by a long shot.

Last week, Beijing announced what many describe as a mini-stimulus, announcing plans to accelerate spending on railways, upgrade housing for low-income households and lower tax rates for smaller companies.

But Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday said China will not take any forceful stimulus measures to counter short-term growth fluctuations, appearing to downplay expectations of further aggressive action.

Barclays' Chang believes inflation pressures for the rest of the year will remain benign and does not rule out aggressive action from policymakers.

"We think RRR (reserve ration requirement) cuts are likely in the event of significant capital outflows or as a pre-emptive measure to avoid a liquidity crisis," he said.

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