China inflation rate little changed at 4.1% in December

China's rate of inflation was little changed in December, despite government efforts to rein in prices.

Consumer prices rose 4.1% from the same month last year, the National Bureau of Statistics said. That is down from 4.2% in November.

For the full year, inflation was at 5.4%, well above government targets.

Analysts said that while inflation remains a concern for policymakers, price growth should slow further and more quickly in 2012.

Shifting to growth?

Jain Chang, China economist at Barclays Capital, said that there was usually a lift in prices in the month before and after the Chinese New Year, which is due to start on 23 January.

However, she said that the expectation was for price growth to continue moderating throughout 2012.

She added that China's policymakers were likely to remain cautious over inflation and were unlikely to significantly ease their monetary policy until it was clear that inflation was fully under control.

China had implemented tightening measures to rein in inflation, including cutting interest rates and increasing the amount of money banks must keep in reserve.

However, once inflation is brought under control, China will probably shift some policies towards underpinning domestic growth, especially as it is facing a number of external issues such as the eurozone debt crisis.

In fact China has already taken some small measures to bolster economic expansion, and in November it cut for the first time in three years the amount of cash banks need to keep in reserve .

China "will continue the policy easing cycle", said Zhiwei Zhang from Nomura.

Important year

Some analysts warned that any future boost to the economy may result in the rate of inflation accelerating again, and it may be a problem China just has to get used to.

Many economists attribute the run of high inflation over the last year to the stimulus measures China injected into its economy during the previous global financial crisis in 2008.

Fraser Howie, from CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, said Chinese authorities will "be prepared to let inflation go up again because they are going to go after growth ultimately".

"It's a political handover year in China and that means they are going to want a strong economy," he added.

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