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China's top industrial official sees 'positive signs'

Updated: 2009-03-10 16:47

BEIJING  -- China's top industrial official said Tuesday he has observed "positive signs" in the economy but warned it's still too early to talk about a recovery.

The country's power consumption and steel and auto output saw a slower decline or a rebound in the January-February period, said the Industry and Information Technology Minister Li Yizhong at a press conference on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's legislative body.

The volume of power consumption in China continued to dip in the first two months of this year but the downward pace was slower, said Li.

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Combined power use in January and February fell 3.7 percent from the same period of last year, compared with a year-on-year drop of 17.5 percent last November and 8.7 percent in December, Li said.

When replying to a journalist seeking his comment on a reported 4 percent year-on-year rise in February power use, Li said the figure was yet to be formally released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) but "the 4 percent figure was generally right".

However, the monthly rebound in February was not comparable, as the Spring Festival holiday, which subdues industrial activity, fell in February last year but in January this year, said Li.

The "obviously slowed slump" shows "some positive signs" have emerged in the economy but the situation remains "grim" and the industrial sector is still "in a very difficult situation", he said.

"We must not treat the difficulties lightly or easily talk about a recovery," said Li.

Other indicators pointing to a warming-up industrial production include a year-on-year increase of 2.4 percent in unprocessed steel output for the January-February period and 3.1 percent in steel products output, said Li.

Unprocessed steel output dropped 10.5 percent year on year to 37.8 million metric tons in December, NBS figures show.

Li also said auto production slid 1.7 percent in the January-February period from the same period last year to 1.53 million units, a much slower contraction.

The NBS data show auto output plummeted 18.9 percent year on year to 686,000 units in December last year.

The stockpiles of iron ores, crude oil and other raw materials have been used up, said Li.

While there have been positive signs in China's economy, the country is still facing a serious situation, said Li.

He quoted Commerce Minister Chen Deming as saying "the global financial crisis has not bottomed out and its impact is deepening on China".

Meanwhile, many Chinese industries face the problem of oversupply and prices may go down again as enterprises start to resume production, said Li.

China's consumer price index, a main gauge of inflation, fell to minus 1.6 percent year on year in February, while the producer price index measuring inflation at a wholesale level fell 4.5 percent year on year,the NBS said Tuesday.

The February figure did not represent a deflation problem in China, since the money supply was ample because of the proactive fiscal policy and the relatively easy monetary policy, the NBS said.

China's industrial output growth slowed to 5.7 percent year on year in December last year, compared with 16 percent last June, as the financial crisis took a toll, said Li.

The government has announced 20 billion yuan (2.9 billion US dollars) of interest subsidies for loans to fund technological upgrading in enterprises to help them better cope with the crisis.

The input can spur bank lending and enterprises' spending and eventually leading to a total investment of more than 400 billion yuan for technological upgrading, said Li.

An editorial of the People's Daily has called on China's top political advisory body to made due contributions to help the country weather through difficulties.