Recent price increases raise inflation jitters

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Prices of consumer goods saw the most rapid hike in four monthsp this September, raising fears about spiking inflation late this year.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has asked ministries and relevant authorities to "intensify" measures to stabilize commodity prices and help the country maintain its economic and inflation targets.

He ordered the Ministry of Industry and Trade to study production and distribution systems to ensure a balance between the supply and demand of essential commodities and services through the end of the year. The country will also make efforts to keep prices of electricity and coal stable.

In Hanoi, prices on some 300 items, including confectionery products, milk and sugar, rose by 3 to 10 percent in September, according to the Hanoi Supermarket Association.

The association's chairman Vu Vinh Phu said the prices of essential food items have increased two or three times compared to those of two to three years ago. In the same period, local incomes have risen by just 25 percent.

Phu said the prices of consumer goods will see stronger increases from now until Tet in January 2011 due to holiday demand. "Prices of hundreds of consumer products increase every day," he said.

Consumer prices climbed 8.92 percent in September from a year earlier, compared with an 8.18 percent advance in August, according to a report issued by the General Statistics Office. Prices rose 1.31 percent in September over the previous month.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Van, head of the office's general department, said factors such as the increase in the price of gasoline and school fees, which contributed to rising inflation last month, will continue to affect the consumer prices in the months ahead.

The devaluation of the Vietnamese dong will further drive the price of imported products higher, raising business input costs as well as consumer prices, she said.

"Most imported products have seen a price hike since the dollar increase," said Vu Thi Hau, deputy director of Nhat Nam Company, which owns the supermarket chain, Fivimart. "But food prices experience bigger year-end increases than other products."

Vu Dinh Anh, deputy director of the Institute of Market and Price Research, said the demand for imported products is expected to increase from now until the end of this year, while the dollar exchange rate is also expected to rise at both commercial banks and black market exchange locations.

This will only add to the inflationary pressures on the country's economy.

Nguyen Xuan Phuc, chairman of the Government Office, said Vietnam will continue to tighten control over consumer prices through the end of the year as the country strives to keep inflation at 8 percent. He said it is necessary to keep an eye on milk and medicine prices in particular.

In a recent report, the Asian Development Bank predicted that Vietnam's inflation would reach 8.5 percent this year and 7.5 percent next year.

These forecasts are down slightly from April's outlook, owing to improvements in macroeconomic conditions and moderate growth in credit, the bank found. However, large swings in inflation, together with expectations of dong devaluation, suggest that even the forecasts are not firmly anchored.

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