A temporary halt in supplies of freshwater fish from the mainland, rising housing rents and the impact of an appreciating yuan on food prices have been blamed for pushing up consumer prices 2.3 per cent last month compared to a year ago, the government said. The consensus estimate was 2.2 per cent, unchanged from November, while for 2006 consumer prices rose by an average of 2 per cent year on year. A government spokesman said the inflation rate was moderate and this trend was likely to continue in the next few months. 'However, the impact of the weakening of the Hong Kong dollar along with the US dollar and the gradual appreciation of the renminbi on imported inflation, though rather modest up till now, is an area to watch out for,' the spokesman said. Census and Statistics Department figures show year-on-year price increases for clothing and footwear of 6.4 per cent; a 4.8 per cent rise for housing, and a 4.3 per cent increase for food. Durable goods prices fell by 6.1 per cent, while alcoholic drinks and tobacco prices dropped by 4.2 per cent and electricity, gas and water charges dipped by 2.9 per cent. Hang Seng Bank economist Vincent Kwan Wing-shing said inflation could creep close to 3 per cent by the end of this year but still average about 2.5 per cent. He said 3 per cent was still reasonable although inflation would start affecting consumer confidence if it continued to rise while wages increased by only 3 per cent to 4 per cent. Mr Kwan said the sustained appreciation of the yuan, which is already at parity with the Hong Kong dollar, was having a psychological effect on consumer prices. 'There is inflationary pressure from the sustained rise in the yuan. Import prices are increasing for Hong Kong. 'The strong economic growth makes it easier to pass this on to the consumer.'