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Beijing (AFP) Feb 1, 2013
Manufacturing activity in China expanded in January, two separate surveys showed Friday, but they differed on whether the recovery was slowing or accelerating.
The official purchasing managers' index (PMI) was 50.4 in January, a slight moderation from 50.6 in the previous month, according to the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing and the National Bureau of Statistics.
British bank HSBC said its final PMI for January stood at a two-year high of 52.3, up from a preliminary 51.9 released last week and a final 51.5 in December. Its survey focuses more on smaller enterprises.
The PMI is a widely watched barometer of the health of China's economy, with a reading above 50 indicating expansion while anything below points to contraction.
The official reading slipped into negative territory for two months from August when economic growth hit a more than three-year low in the third quarter, before returning to positive territory with 50.2 in October and 50.6 in November.
But the January result was lower than the 51.0 median forecast of 10 economists polled by Dow Jones Newswires.
Even so, analysts said it was unlikely to distress investors significantly as the figure is usually distorted around the Chinese New Year holiday, which falls on February 10 this year, as business flows turn down.
"We believe the Chinese economy and its related asset markets will remain in a sweet spot in the near term," said Bank of America Merrill Lynch economists Lu Ting and Hu Weijun in a research note.
Qu Hongbin, a Hong Kong-based economist with HSBC, said of the bank's reading in a statement: "China's manufacturing activity is gaining further steam on the back of improving domestic conditions. We see increasing signals of a sustained growth recovery in the coming months."
China's economy expanded 7.8 percent last year, its lowest annual figure since 1999, in the face of weakness at home and in key overseas markets.
But it grew 7.9 percent in the final three months of 2012 from a year earlier as industrial output and retail sales strengthened, snapping seven straight quarters of slowing growth.
The People's Bank of China last cut interest rates in July last year, and has instead used open market operations to boost liquidity to support the economy.
The central bank has said it would start carrying out short-term operations to manage liquidity in the money market, which analysts say will give policy-makers more flexibility.
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