Updated at 6.21pm: Hong Kong's economy is continuing to grow strongly - with gross domestic product (GDP) rising six per cent in the first quarter in 2005 compared with the same period last year, latest statistics released on Friday revealed. The rise was less than the 7.1 per cent recorded in the fourth quarter of 2004 and the 8.1 per cent growth for 2004 as a whole, the Census and Statistics Department figures showed. Government economist Kwok Kwok-chuen said that in the first three months of 2005, merchandise exports and exports of services had grown by 8.9 per cent and 8.6 per cent, respectively, compared with the same period last year. 'This was supported by the mainland's strong trade flows and enhanced price competitiveness from the earlier weakness of the US dollar.' Mr Kwok explained. 'Exports of services attained a further notable growth at 8.6 per cent in the first quarter over a year earlier, as offshore trade continued to surge, while inbound tourism was buoyant,' he added. Mr Kwok said consumption in Hong Kong remained firm, along with an 'entrenched economic recovery', improving labour market conditions and a strong property market. 'Private consumption expenditure went up further by 4.6 per cent in real terms in the first quarter over a year earlier. Investment demand recovered after a temporary relapse in the fourth quarter of 2004, underscored by a promising business outlook,' he said. Mr Kwok said employment rose to an all-time high in the first quarter of 2005. 'The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate fell to 6.1 per cent in the first quarter and further to a 41-month low of 5.9 per cent in the three months ending April 2005,' he said. Mr Kwok said the consumer price index (CPI) recorded a 0.4 per cent year-on-year increase. Price levels were expected to remain mild over the next few months, despite pressure from higher oil prices and an earlier weakness of the US dollar. He said Hong Kong's economic future remained bright. The GDP forecast for 2005 was kept at 4.5-5.5 per cent - the same range forecast in the budget speech in March. 'There could be some upsides from the domestic sector, not only on account of the current strength of local consumption, but also the latest improvement in construction output, the latter being the laggard and hence the main drag on the economic recovery so far,' said Mr Kwok. 'Furthermore, the opening of the Hong Kong Disneyland later this year should give a boost to inbound tourism and lift consumer sentiments further,' he added.