Beijing (AFP) - Chinese inflation hit a seven-month high of 3.1 percent in September, latest data showed, with analysts warning further upward pressure on prices would restrict the government's options to boost the economy.
The rise in the consumer price index (CPI), a main gauge of inflation in the world's second-largest economy, was sharply up from the 2.6 percent logged in August, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
It was also ahead of expectations of 2.9 percent in a poll by Dow Jones Newswires.
A spike in food prices was the main driver of the increase, and authorities blamed national holidays in late September and early October, along with floods and drought in some areas.
Cooling temperatures with the onset of autumn, rising travelling costs and a hike in fuel prices were also factors, NBS analyst Yu Qiumei said in a statement.
In the first nine months of the year, the CPI was at 2.5 percent, the NBS said.
September's figure was still below Beijing's annual target of 3.5 percent for the year, but higher than the central bank's benchmark one-year deposit rate of three percent, meaning savers' bank deposits will lose purchasing power over time.
Economists warned that inflation was likely to pick up further in the rest of the year, leaving the government little leeway for policy easing.
"CPI inflation will be edging towards the cap at 3.5 percent and home prices are rising at annual rate around 9.0 percent," analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong said in a research note.
"We expect Premier Li (Keqiang) will very likely 'taper' his pro-growth rhetoric and will gradually gear towards a more neutral stance," they added.
China is a major driver of the global economy but is coming off its worst annual economic performance since 1999, after gross domestic product (GDP) managed an expansion of just 7.7 percent last year.
In the final three months of 2012, growth accelerated to 7.9 percent, but has since slowed to 7.7 percent in the January-March period and 7.5 percent in the second quarter.
The government has introduced some measures to stimulate growth since late June, including a mini fiscal stimulus for rail and urban fixed-asset investment, tax cuts and keeping monetary policy loose.
China's producer price index (PPI), which measures goods prices at the factory gate, rose 0.2 percent month-on-month in September, according to the NBS.
It edged up from 0.1 percent in August, which was the first increase in six months and came after five months of falling producer prices.
The PPI figure "shows that market demand is becoming more active and the macro economy is stabilising and rebounding", Yu said.
Yao Wei, a Hong Kong-based economist with Societe Generale, said the improvement suggested some industrial producers had resumed, but cautioned that the development might not be sustainable.
"The question is how long it could last if the momentum of infrastructure investment were to be dampened by limited credit easing," she said in a research note.
China's economy has shown signs of rebounding after a string of strong data in recent months indicated growth may accelerate.
The government announced two weeks ago that Chinese manufacturing activity strengthened last month to its highest level in 17 months, while a closely watched private survey released by HSBC showed a slight gain from August.
But an unexpected drop in September's exports, which analysts said was due to the national holidays and a strong local currency, has cast some shadows on the outlook for recovery.
The government is scheduled to release GDP growth for the third quarter on Friday.