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Feb. 28, 2021, 9:50 p.m. EST

China private factory gauge sinks to 9-month low

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By MarketWatch

China's manufacturing activity eased in February, posting the slowest rate of expansion in nine months amid weak demand for new orders and falling exports, according to a private survey of manufacturers.

The Caixin China purchasing managers index, which is weighted toward small, private manufacturers, dropped to 50.9 last month from 51.5 in January, Caixin Media Co. and researcher Markit said Monday.

Still, February's reading was the 10th consecutive month that the Caixin PMI held above the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction.

Supply and demand in the manufacturing industry continued to expand at a slower pace. The subindexes for output growth retreated to its weakest level in 10 months and total new work expanded at the weakest rate in nine months, according to Caixin.

Export orders dropped for the second straight month, the data showed. The job market remained under pressure, as the subindex of employment at Chinese manufacturers also fell in February.

"The effect of the recovery further weakened as the reading declined for a third straight month, falling to the lowest since May," Wang Zhe, a senior economist at Caixin Insight Group, said in a statement accompanying the data.

Meanwhile, the market became more optimistic about the business outlook. The gauge for future output expectations jumped to its second-highest level since August 2014 on expectations the winter flare-up in Covid-19 cases was coming to an end, the economist said.

China's official manufacturing PMI, which is focused more on large, state-owned companies, fell to 50.6 in February from 51.3 in January, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Sunday. The official survey of manufacturers has a much larger sample than the private survey.

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