China’s Feb factory activity shrinks for 5th month, adding to pressure on economy

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 7:50 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s manufacturing activity in February contracted for a fifth straight month, an official factory survey showed on Friday, raising the pressure on policymakers to roll out further stimulus measures as factory owners struggle for orders.

The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to 49.1 in February from 49.2 in January, below the 50-mark separating growth from contraction and in line with a median forecast of 49.1 in a Reuters poll.

Seasonal factors may have affected the figure, as the Lunar New Year (LNY) fell on Feb. 10 this year and saw factories shut as workers returned home for the holiday.

China’s disappointing post-COVID recovery has raised doubts about the foundations of its economic model and stoked expectations policymakers will need to consider bolder reforms to underpin longer term growth.

The world’s second-biggest economy has been grappling with sub-par growth over the past year amid a property crisis and as consumers hold off spending, foreign firms divest, manufacturers struggle for buyers, and local governments contend with huge debt burdens.

The official non-manufacturing PMI, which includes services and construction, rose to 51.4 from 50.7 in January, marking the highest reading since September last year, thanks to robust activity during the LNY holidays.

Policymakers have pledged to roll out further measures to help shore up growth after the steps implemented since June had only a modest effect.

The People’s Bank of China cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for banks by 50-basis points on Feb. 5, the biggest in two years, releasing 1 trillion yuan ($139.03 billion) in long-term liquidity.

China’s President Xi Jinping on Friday chaired a meeting of a key economic policy making body on supporting manufacturers through equipment upgrades and lowering logistics costs, part of his push to rebalance the economy through harnessing technology to bring about productivity gains and income increases.

China won’t release its 2024 growth target till next Tuesday, but policy insiders expect Beijing to maintain a similar growth target to last year of around 5%.

($1 = 7.1925 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Ellen Zhang and Joe Cash)