China says its economy grew by 9.5 percent in first quarter, overshooting official targets

China's economy grew by an unexpectedly high 9.5 percent in the first three months of this year from a year earlier, the government said Wednesday, warning that it needs to tighten controls on surging investment in new factories and real estate.

The increase exceeded the expectations of analysts who had predicted that efforts by Beijing over the past year to slow growth would have a bigger impact. The government has cautioned repeatedly that surging growth could ignite inflation and harm China's fragile banks.

The economy also grew by 9.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004 from a year earlier. The government's official target for growth is 8 percent a year.

Leading the first-quarter surge was a 22.8 percent jump in investment in factories, construction and other "fixed assets," to 1.1 trillion yuan (US$133 billion; Ђ102 billion), the government said.

"Investment in fixed assets is still overheated," Zheng Jingping, spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics, told a news conference.

Zheng said the government needs to tighten controls on land use and loans for new construction, warning that too much investment pushes up prices for raw materials such as crude oil and iron ore.

Speculation in real estate also needs to be constrained, Zheng said. He said China should learn from developed countries which levy property taxes and transaction fees.

While investment growth was far slower than the 43 percent jump recorded in the first quarter of last year, it was still "at a very level," he said. "The task of macroeconomic regulation and control is still arduous."

Manufacturing and consumer spending also registered double-digit growth. Industrial output was up 16.2 percent at 1.4 trillion yuan (US$169 billion; Ђ130 billion). Retail sales rose 13.7 percent to 1.5 trillion yuan (US$182 billion; Ђ140 billion).

Inflation was moderate, with the consumer price index up 2.8 percent from the same period last year, the bureau said.

It said gross domestic product - a measure of economic output - totaled 3.1 trillion yuan (US$375 billion; Ђ288 billion) in the quarter.

Economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires had expected GDP growth to slow to 8.9 percent on year.

At the same time, the government will increase farm subsidies to close China's yawning urban-rural wage gap, Zheng said.

The disposable income of urban residents rose 8.6 percent to 2,938 yuan (US$355; Ђ273) in the first quarter, while rural incomes grew 11.9 percent to 967 yuan (US$117; Ђ90), the bureau said.

STEPHANIE HOO, Associated Press Writer

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