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China forex reserves at US$1.95 trillion

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China forex reserves at US$1.95 trillion

China's central bank said yesterday that its foreign exchange reserves rose 16 percent from a year earlier to US$1.95 trillion by the end of March, but growth slowed in the first quarter as exports and foreign investment slumped.
China's reserves, already the world's largest, increased by US$7.7 billion in the first quarter - US$146.2 billion less than during the same period last year, the People's Bank of China said in a notice on its Web site.
The rise compared to a fourth quarter increase of almost US$45 billion, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
The slower rate of increase in China's reserves this past quarter could raise concern in Washington, where U.S. officials are depending on Beijing to continue buying treasury bills to finance a stimulus package. Other Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have called on China to contribute to a global bailout fund from its reserves.
The country's reserves have ballooned in recent years as the central bank has bought up dollars generated from its huge trade and influx of foreign investment.
But its economy has slowed recently due to a drop-off in trade brought on by the global financial crisis and a slump in the domestic real estate industry, although there are signs that trade picked up in March.
"The money is leaving the country anyway, so there is no need for the government to go out and buy dollars," Andy Xie, an independent economist based in Shanghai, said. "Inflow through buying properties and speculation was a big part of foreign exchange increase in the past few years, and we are seeing a bit of unwinding as new money is not coming in."
Foreign companies invested US$5.8 billion in China in February, down 15.8 percent from the same month last year, according to government figures.
Nearly half of China's foreign exchange reserves are invested in U.S. treasuries and notes issued by other government-affiliated agencies. China's Premier Wen Jiabao called on the U.S. last month to safeguard those assets as America's largest creditor.
In March, the reserves increased by US$41.7 billion - US$6.7 billion more than the same period last year.
Exports fell 17 percent in March from a year earlier, the fifth straight monthly decline but less severe than February's 25.7 plunge, the sharpest in a decade, the customs agency reported Friday. It said trade "showed clear signs of improvement."
Imports fell by 25.7 percent, widening the Chinese trade surplus to US$18.6 billion from February's US$4.8 billion gap.
Beijing has taken steps to hold down the price of exports by cutting taxes on exporters and stopping the rise of China's tightly controlled currency, the yuan, against the U.S. dollar. Economists say both steps could strain relations with trading partners if China is seen to be competing unfairly.