China's producer prices fell at their slowest rate for over four years in August, the government said today, another sign of stabilisation in the world's second-largest economy. 

The news came a day after Beijing unveiled a forecast-beating rise in imports - the first in almost two years - raising hopes that a long period of slowing growth could be bottoming out. 

The producer price index (PPI), which measures the cost of goods at the factory gate, fell 0.8% in August, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

It was the smallest fall since April 2012, figures from Bloomberg News showed, and was significantly narrower than July's 1.7% decline. 

Protracted drops in producer prices bode ill for industrial prospects and economic growth, as they put off customers - who seek to delay purchases in anticipation of cheaper deals in future - starving companies of business and funds. 

Chinese prices have been negative for more than four years but narrowing declines in the past three months have fuelled hopes for the country - a key driver of the world economy. 

China's economy expanded last year at its slowest rate in a quarter of a century as Beijing strives to effect a difficult transition in its growth model from reliance on exports and fixed-asset investment towards one driven by consumers. 

Last month's producer price drop was less than the 0.9% decline forecast by a survey of economists. 

Analysts said they expected that shift to positive would occur before the end of the year, but predicted that China's general price level would nonetheless remain stable. 

Today's figures show that vegetable price rises rose following the worst summer flooding in decades, but were offset by a sharp fall in pork price inflation. 

Analysts agreed that the August data was unlikely to increase the likelihood of further monetary easing by the Central People's Bank.