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Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 10 News List

China says New Year sales rose 13%

UP OR DOWN? While Beijing boasted of improvement, economists said the figures showed that the economy was slowing down as growth seemed better last year

AFP , BEIJING

Sales by China’s main retailers rose 13 percent during the New Year holiday, the commerce ministry said, despite jitters caused by the global financial crisis.

The country’s 1,000 top retailers sold 12.5 billion yuan (US$1.8 billion) in goods between Thursday and Saturday, the ministry said on its Web site on Sunday.

The growth figure was in nominal terms, and if inflation was deducted, the actual growth rate would be about 10.5 percent.

Various promotions and extended opening hours at stores boosted consumption, and many exporters that were facing flagging overseas demand took the opportunity to explore the domestic market, it said.

However, economists said the figure actually provided further proof that the Chinese economy was slowing as it seemed much lower than retail sales growth recorded during last year’s New Year holiday.

No directly comparable figures were available, but in the entire month of January last year, sales of the then top 1,000 retailers increased 30.6 percent year-on-year.

“I don’t think the figures show China’s growth remains strong. Instead, I think it shows economic growth keeps slowing,” said Qu Hongbin (屈宏斌), a Hong Kong-based economist with HSBC. “With the worsening of the economic environment, it is likely that retail sales growth will further slow down in the first half of 2009.”

Qu said Chinese families are able to spend for the time being, because their consumption is not financed by loans.

This has prevented a sharp fall in holiday spending as seen in the US and other countries, he said.

But with the further slowdown of the Chinese economy, unemployment will increase, having a negative impact on household income and affecting consumption, he said.

In the first 11 months of last year, retail sales were up 21.9 percent from the same period in 2007.

In related news, growth in privately owned cars and motorcycles slowed markedly in China last year, the government announced yesterday, in yet another sign of the impact of the global crisis on the world’s fourth biggest economy.

China had about 129 million private cars and motorcycles last year, an increase of 6.4 percent from the year before, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement posted on its Web site.

This compared with a rate of growth of 10.9 percent in 2007, the ministry said.

The ministry did not give a reason for the slowdown, but the data seemed to fit with other figures showing a slowing auto market in China.

China’s auto sales fell 14.6 percent in November from the same month a year earlier, industry association figures showed.

China’s economy is under huge pressure because of the global crisis, with overall growth in the third quarter at 9 percent, the lowest in more than five years.

The World Bank has forecast that growth in the Chinese economy will slow to 7.5 percent this year, the lowest in 19 years.

The ministry said that China had 87.3 million private motorcycles and 41.7 million private cars last year.

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