A man checks out property prices at a real estate agency in Beijing .
China said Friday its robust economy slowed slightly in the first quarter of 2011 but inflation hit a 32-month high, suggesting Beijing\'s efforts to rein in soaring costs are still falling short.
Gross domestic product in the world\'s second-largest economy expanded 9.7 percent on year in the first three months of the year, the National Bureau of Statistics said, fuelling market expectations for more tightening measures.
The figure beat Dow Jones Newswires\' estimate of 9.5 percent and was lower than the 9.8 percent growth rate posted in the final quarter of 2010.
\"The national economy maintained steady and fast development and had a very good beginning (to the year),\" NBS spokesman Sheng Laiyun said.
The data triggered falls across Asian stock markets. In early afternoon trade, China shares were down 0.42 percent, Hong Kong was off 0.35 percent and Tokyo was down 0.43 percent.
The politically sensitive consumer price index rose 5.4 percent year-on-year in March -the fastest pace since July 2008 and well above the government\'s 2011 target of four percent - and 5.0 percent in the first quarter.
Keeping inflation at 5.0 percent was \"no easy job\", said Sheng, as food prices surged 11 percent in the first quarter and housing costs rose 6.5 percent. Inflation hit 4.9 percent in February.
Sheng said China \"must persist in managing inflation expectations\" but noted prices fell 0.2 percent in March from February which was a \"good sign\".
However, analysts said the government had more work to do, with further interest rate hikes and tighter bank lending restrictions likely in the coming months.
\"The Chinese economy is not slowing as planned or desired. Inflation remains stubbornly high,\" said Alistair Thornton, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.
Lu Ting, an economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, said prices normally fell more than 0.2 percent following the Chinese New Year holiday.
\"Thats why policymakers are a bit nervous about inflation pressures and they raised (the) tone on inflation fighting this week,\" said Lu.
Premier Wen Jiabao vowed last weekend to ramp up efforts against rising costs, and an industry association on Wednesday ordered businesses not to raise prices and heed Beijing\'s call to stabilise costs to help tame inflation.
Top leaders, ever fearful of inflation\'s historical potential to trigger social unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, have been struggling to rein in food and property costs.
Prices have remained high despite four interest rate hikes since October and numerous increases in the bank reserve requirement ratio, which effectively limits the amount of money banks can lend.
The cost of products at the factory gate also rose 7.3 percent year-on-year in March, up from 7.2 percent in February, the NBS said, as global commodity prices soar following the disasters in Japan and conflict in oil-rich Libya.
Sheng said investment in real estate development soared 34.1 percent on year to 884.6 billion yuan ($135.4 billion) in the first quarter. Other data released Thursday showed a bigger than expected rise in new loans last month.
Foreign exchange reserves soared past $3 trillion for the first time at the end of March. The world\'s largest stockpile has been rising as Beijing buys foreign currencies used to pay for the country\'s exports in order to control the value of the yuan.
Industrial output from China\'s millions of factories and workshops rose 14.4 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, while fixed asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose 25 percent.
Retail sales in the first three months of the year were up 16.3 percent.