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Economy

China's inflation climbs to 2.3% as trade war augurs faster rise

Food and fuel prices propel CPI for August

Pork prices in China are seen as a major indicator of the trade war's impact on inflation.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China's consumer price index grew 2.3% year over year in August due to higher food and fuel costs, and experts see room for further inflation as fallout from the U.S. trade war.

Last month's CPI growth bested July's rate by 0.2 percentage point, government data released Monday shows, making for the fastest pace since February. But the January-March period is considered an outlier owing to China's Lunar New Year and the outsize consumption during the irregularly scheduled weeklong holiday. Apart from that quarter, August's inflation rose to a level last seen in November 2016.

Prices for foodstuffs and alcohol rose 1.9%, accounting for 0.55 point of the overall CPI gain. Inclement weather in northern China lifted prices on vegetables. Gasoline and diesel prices jumped about 20% on the year. Medical services and housing rents grew costlier as well.

The CPI climbed 0.7% on a month-on-month basis, or 0.4 point faster than in July.

In July, China retaliated against American tariffs by imposing a 25% duty on $50 billion worth of imports from the U.S., including soybeans. Beijing is prepared to enact levies of up to 25% against $60 billion worth of additional U.S. goods if the White House proceeds with a third round of tariffs.

Chinese brokerage Industrial Securities estimates the raft of tariffs could accelerate CPI growth by as much as 0.4 point. Imports are especially vulnerable to higher prices, due to a weaker yuan.

The price of pork serves as a crucial barometer of the trade war's impact on inflation, because the Chinese staple carries particularly hefty influence in the CPI. Though pork prices in August undershot the year-earlier figure, they climbed on the month from July.

Farm-bred hogs are fed soybean meal left over from making cooking oil, meaning the tariff on soybeans could be passed on to pork products. An outbreak of African swine fever has tightened pork supply as well, which could boost prices sharply.

The producer price index, also released Monday by the National Bureau of Statistics, rose 4.1% on the year, a rate 0.5 point slower than July's number. On a monthly basis, the PPI gained 0.4% in August, up from 0.1% in July. Higher prices tied to petroleum and gas exploration left their mark.

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