October floods in Hainan blamed for rising inflation
This policing of prices is part of China’s unorthodox fight against inflation, which is running at more than 4 percent a year. Rising prices also are discomfiting Asia’s other developing economies. Policymakers in the region still fret about a repeat of the autumn of 2008, when the financial crisis struck. But a greater fear is a reprise of that year’s spring and summer, when commodity prices soared.
The source of the inflation is much disputed. Some blame bad weather, such as the October floods in China’s Hainan province, which damaged crops and helped raise food prices. Others blame deluges of a more metaphorical kind: floods of capital from abroad or floods of lending at home. A reluctance to tighten monetary policy has allowed private credit to grow by more than 20 percent a year in Bangladesh, Vietnam and India.
Asia’s policymakers remain "paranoid about growth scares from the West," argues Sean Darby, chief Asia strategist at Nomura Global Equity Research in Hong Kong. They do not want to repeat the mistake of 2008, when they were tightening as the financial crisis struck. But Asia’s economies have returned to normal faster than its monetary policies. Even as America and Europe are exporting pessimism to Asia’s policymakers, they are importing goods from its factories. America’s economy, for example, grew only 1.7 percent in the second quarter, but its imports grew by 33.5 percent.
This may be a new phenomenon, as cash-strapped shoppers turn to more affordable Asian products. Or it may be a cyclical one: Asia’s component-makers often prosper in the early stages of the Western business cycle as companies rebuild their inventories in anticipation of brighter sales to come.
Now that inventories are better stocked, American firms may be less-eager buyers. That will take some of the steam out of Asia’s exports, which may already be leveling off. Taiwan’s November shipments, for example, were up by more than a fifth from a year earlier, but they have shrunk a little since the spring. Asia’s exports may be peaking, then, even as inflation is gathering strength. With luck, the former problem will help solve the latter.
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