The mainland's top economic planner, Zeng Peiyan, says the government will try to encourage private investment to boost the economy next year. But a senior economist warned that a lack of incentives for private investment was likely to slow economic growth next year and beyond. Shawn Xu Xiao-nian, head of research at China International Capital, said yesterday that the mainland's economic growth was likely to lose steam in next year's second half when he expected the central government to run out of money to boost the economy. His warning came as Mr Zeng was quoted as saying the mainland's economy would 'approach or meet' this year's economic growth target of 8 per cent. Mr Zeng said the government would continue to boost infrastructure investment and spur consumer spending next year, the Xinhua news agency reported yesterday. He estimated that the country's investment in fixed assets next year would rise 15 per cent compared with last year. Mr Zeng did not specify projected gross domestic product growth for next year but economists said a target had been set of between 7 and 7.5 per cent. Mr Xu said Beijing's efforts to sustain fast economic growth into the next decade would, to a large extent, depend upon private investment, as the authorities could not afford to run high deficits to bankroll economic growth for a long time. Mr Zeng, minister of the State Development Planning Commission, appeared to agree. Speaking at the opening of a national economic planning conference, he said investment from the private sector had plunged due to pessimistic market expectations and poor access to capital. He said the central government would work out policy measures to increase financing for the private sector. To further boost the economy, Mr Zeng said the government would allocate more money for massive reconstruction projects in areas which were hit earlier this year by the worst floods in 50 years. He said more funds would also be directed to irrigation projects and to support the technical upgrading of big state industrial plants and hi-tech projects. Mr Xu said the economy was now mainly buoyed by the state's increased infrastructure investment. In the first 10 months, fixed-asset investments rose 21.2 per cent year-on-year to 1.28 trillion yuan (about HK$1.19 trillion). But Mr Xu said the mainland's thinning government coffers would not sustain such a scale of investment for very long. Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng said yesterday the budget deficit was expected to widen further next year after a forecast of a record 96 billion yuan this year.