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China factory activity edges down in January

BEIJING (AFP) – Factory activity in China edged down in January, official figures showed yesterday, but slightly exceeded expectations as businesses struggled with sporadic disruptions due to coronavirus outbreaks.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) – a key gauge of manufacturing activity – in the world’s second-largest economy inched down to 50.1, just above the 50-point mark separating growth from contraction.

The data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows a slight decrease from last month’s reading of 50.3, when activity was buoyed by an easing of commodity prices.

“Faced with a complex and severe economic environment and scattered outbreaks… China’s economy continued to recover and develop, though growth levels somewhat declined,” said NBS statistician Zhao Qinghe.

The NBS reading contrasted with a private survey of smaller manufacturers, which fell by 1.8 points to 49.1.

“The slowdown is particularly severe for the small firms,” said chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management Zhiwei Zhang.

Workers align toothbrushes on the production line at a factory in Yantai in east China’s Shandong province. PHOTO: AP

The NBS figures have hovered in growth territory since November, following a seven-month downward trend in part due to power shortages and high raw material prices.

The reading fell below 50 for two months in September and October as the power crunch hit business operations.

Meanwhile, the non-manufacturing business activity index was 51.1 in January, a contraction of 1.6 points from the previous month.

The decline was due in part to a slowing recovery in the services sector and a seasonal slowdown in construction.

Analysts have warned that domestic coronavirus outbreaks will likely continue to weigh on China’s economy as sporadic outbreaks dent consumer confidence and cause business shutdowns.

Beijing is on high alert for new virus outbreaks as it prepares to host next month’s Winter Olympics.

Authorities locked down an area neighbouring Beijing this week following a handful of reported cases, appearing not to publicly announce restrictions that have confined around 1.2 million people in Xiong’an New Area to their homes.