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Lunar new year spending up strongly

China's consumer spending rose strongly during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday period which just ended, the Ministry of Commerce said on Saturday.

Retail sales climbed to 290 billion yuan ($42.5 billion) in the week through Saturday, up 13.8 percent from the equivalent holiday week in 2008, the ministry estimated.

That is a slowdown from the 19.0 percent pace at which retail sales grew in December, but may indicate China's consumer sector is holding up fairly well despite a decline in overall economic growth.

Gross domestic product growth slumped to 6.8 percent last quarter, dragging the pace of expansion for all of 2008 down to a seven-year low of 9.0 percent.

Retail spending during the Lunar New Year holiday week of 2008 was disrupted by fierce snowstorms which snarled rail and air traffic, stranding millions of passengers. Holiday travel was much smoother this year.

Nationwide sales of food at major stores during the past week jumped 23 percent in value terms, while beverage sales gained 17.5 percent and sales of tobacco and alcohol rose 14.7 percent, the ministry estimated.

Sales of household electric appliances, aided by a government programme to subsidize purchases in rural areas, gained 17.8 percent.

Over the past 20 days, the Chinese made an average 4.40 million railway trips every day as many crossed the country for holiday reunions with their families, Xinhua news agency quoted the railway ministry as saying. That was up 15.6 percent from the same holiday period last year.

A total of 248 million people traveled by road in the week through Saturday, up 5.6 percent from the same period last year, the transport ministry said.

(Agencies)