© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Worker wearing a face mask works on a production line manufacturing bicycle steel rim at a factory in Hangzhou, Zhejiang

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s factory gate prices rose at the fastest pace since November 2018 in February, official data showed on Wednesday, underscoring expectations for robust growth in 2021 as the world’s second-largest economy gathers momentum.

The producer price index (PPI) rose 1.7% from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement, compared with the median forecast for a 1.5% rise from a Reuters poll of analysts and a 0.3% rise in January.

The firmer-than-expected price data comes as the prospect of a surge in inflation globally rattles financial markets amid concerns the world economic recovery may overheat.

China’s exports in February grew at a record 154.9% in dollar terms from a year earlier, when the country was in virtual shutdown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the country’s purchasing manager’s index (PMI), which gauges factory activity, expanded by the slowest pace since May.

Beijing set an economic growth target of above 6% for 2021, which is modest in comparison to market expectations. However, some economists expect growth to exceed 8% as China recovers from the weak growth of 2020.

Chinese officials continue to warn of difficult external conditions, however, as the pandemic remains severe in other parts of the world and saps demand.

The consumer price index fell 0.2% from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said in a separate statement, compared with a 0.4% fall tipped by a Reuters poll and a 0.3% decline in January.

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