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China's 'insatiable' demand brings inflation risk

By Steve Hargreaves, senior writer

HOUSTON (CNNMoney) -- China's massive building boom shows little signs of slowing, bringing with it a huge appetite for raw materials -- and the threat of inflation

That's the outlook from Jing Ulrich, head of China equities and commodities at J.P. Morgan, who spoke at an oil industry conference Monday.

Ulrich said the government plans to build 36 million units of low-cost housing over the next five years. China is also pushing ahead with a plan to build nearly 10,000 miles of high speed rail over the next five years, spending $150 billion a year on the project.

"How much raw material, how much energy is required," said Ulrich, speaking at the IHS CERA annual conference, one of the biggest energy conferences worldwide. "Does the world have enough copper, enough oil to supply China's insatiable appetite?"

But the building boom comes with a dark side: inflation.

Food prices are now increasing at an annual rate of 10%, while wages for factory workers jumped 20% to 25% in the last year, said Ulrich.

To combat inflation, she believes the government will continue to tighten lending policies and let the currency appreciate at a rate of 5% to 6% this year - roughly double last year's pace.

The health of the global economy and demand from emerging markets is a key driver for energy prices, particularly oil.

Ulrich made no mention of the recent events in the Middle East, which have helped push crude prices up over $100 a barrel in the last couple of weeks. Several Middle East experts and executives from Persian Gulf oil companies are slated to speak at the conference Tuesday.  To top of page

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