Asia’s rapid growth poses risk of overheating, IMF says

Traffic and skyscrapers in Hong Kong The IMF says there is a risk of a property bubble developing

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Asia-Pacific will see robust growth but some economies risk overheating, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.

The IMF said it expects the region to grow by close to 7% in the next two years.

However, it added the rapid rate of growth may further fuel inflation.

A number of countries across the region are struggling to control prices which are making life difficult for millions of people.

According to the IMF high food and fuel prices pushed the regional inflation rate to 4.5% in February.

It said that central banks in the region may need to tighten their monetary policy if prices continue to rise.

It added that more flexible currencies would help ease overheating risks.

It also said that it expected Japan's earthquake to have a "limited" impact on the rest of Asia but warned the situation was still uncertain.

'Pockets of overheating'

The report warned that some countries were at risk of overheating - when a prolonged period of rapid economic growth causes high levels of inflation and excess production that eventually hurt the economy and may cause a recession.

"Asia's rapid growth is accompanied by the emergence of pockets of overheating across the region in both goods and assets prices," the IMF said.

"In addition to higher policy rates, exchange rate flexibility is a key line of defense against overheating pressures," the report added.

However, the IMF said that despite rising food and housing costs, it was premature to say that China's economy was actually overheating.

China has raised interest rates four times since October and the country's leaders have said that clamping down on inflation, which is at its highest level in more than two-and-a-half years, is their most important task this year.

But while a stronger currency could help ease inflation by making imported goods such as oil cheaper, analysts say China is likely to let its tightly-controlled currency appreciate only gradually.

The IMF also warned that there was a risk of a property bubble developing in Hong Kong, although it noted that the government was taking steps to guard against this prospect.

Hong Kong property prices have risen almost 10% this year and now beyond their 1997 peak but the market is expected to slow as the government makes more land available and as mortgage rates increase.

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