China factory activity grows at slowest pace in 9 months: official

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Factory activity in China grew at the slowest pace in nine months in February, as business operations slowed over the country's Lunar New Year holiday, according to official data released Sunday.

The Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), a key gauge of manufacturing activity, fell to 50.6 last month from 51.3, said the National Bureau of Statistics, with slowdowns seen in production, new orders and foreign trade.

Although this was the lowest reading overall since last May, when manufacturing PMI also came in at 50.6, the figure remains above the 50-point mark separating growth from contraction.

"Lunar New Year fell in mid-February this year, and the holiday factor showed a greater impact on the production and operations of enterprises this month," said NBS senior statistician Zhao Qinghe.

Zhao added that both the new export order index and import order index were in contraction, affected by slower production and purchasing activities during the festive period.

But market expectations remained bullish and the purchase price index of key raw materials remained relatively high.

Official figures also showed that even as smaller firms were more affected by seasonal factors, expectations for sectors such as specialised equipment, automobiles and some electronics remain in a higher range -- with some surveyed firms indicating March will be a "peak season" for them.

Meanwhile, the non-manufacturing PMI was 51.4 this month, down from 52.4 the month before, said the NBS.

It noted weakening in the service industry and construction activity, also impacted by the nationwide holiday.