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Fatter wallets herald increase in buying

Updated: 2012-04-14 10:08

By Wei Tian (China Daily)

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An increase in national income, one of the few bright points amid China's flat macroeconomic indicators for the first quarter of the year, suggests that consumption might pick up again as prices fall, experts said.

That will help ease fears that the country will have a hard landing, even after its GDP growth dropped to 8.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, the lowest point it has been at since the third quarter of 2009.

Chinese urban residents' average per capita disposable income in the first three months of 2012 was 6,796 yuan ($1,079), an increase of 9.8 percent year-on-year in real terms, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Friday.

In the rural areas, the average per capita cash income went up even more, increasing 12.7 percent year-on-year to 2,560 yuan.

"For city dwellers, the income increase was mainly attributed to tax cuts on the revenues of individuals and small businesses late last year, and local governments' efforts to boost residents' incomes," Sheng Laiyun, bureau spokesman, said at a news conference.

In rural areas, an increasing number of migrant workers and a rise in the price of agricultural products have pushed up incomes, Sheng said.

"The incomes of urban and rural residents, which are increasing faster than the country's GDP, will support consumption growth in the future," Tang Jianwei, a senior analyst with the Bank of Communications Ltd, said in a research note.

Meanwhile, a retreat in inflation in the first quarter, which was expected to decline further in the year, will also help stabilize consumer demand stable, Tang said.

China's consumer prices index, a gauge of inflation, rebounded to 3.6 percent in March from 3.2 percent a month earlier, which was still below the country's target of 4 percent for the year.

Not all consumers said they were aware of the income increase. Many said their salaries were increasing by far less than double-digit figures and apologized in jest about "keeping down the average".

In response, Sheng said not everyone has enjoyed the benefits implied by the statistics. Incomes, he explained, have not been distributed in a balanced manner.

"The median level of the income rank was actually lower than the average level, suggesting that more than half of the residents are below the average income line," he said.

Meanwhile, Sheng warned that the fast economic growth is unlikely to continue since prices have already begun to fall. It will become increasingly important to keep incomes increasing at a relatively fast pace.

Premier Wen Jiabao vowed during the annual session of the National People's Congress last month that a plan will be embarked on this year to redistribute incomes. Tang said that will help boost consumer confidence.

Data released on Wednesday showed that a high demand for workers exists in the labor market. Each person looking for work can now choose among an average of 1.08 job positions, higher than the average of 1.04 positions seen in late 2011 and also the highest level since the survey was first conducted 10 years ago. The statistics bureau said more than 3 million new jobs were added to the country's economy in the first quarter of the year and 3.4 percent more migrant workers.

Meanwhile, the country's fiscal revenue has been growing at an even faster pace than residents' incomes. The Ministry of Finance said on Friday that China's March fiscal revenue increased by 14.7 percent year-on-year to reach nearly 3 trillion yuan and the country's overall tax revenue increased by 10.3 percent to hit 2.59 trillion yuan.