In a fresh sign of a slowdown in China's economy, the final China HSBC PMI for December indicated manufacturing contracted for the first time in seven months, with both output and new orders declining.
The final reading came in at 49.6, up slightly from the 49.5 preliminary reading of 49.5 from HSBC/Markit, but still lower than November's 50.0. A reading above 50 indicates growth, while a reading below signals a contraction.
The data come as China's economic growth is slowing, with the central bank this month forecasting a 7.1 percent pace next year, down from expectations for around 7.4 percent this year.
However, the contraction in PMI was "only marginal," noted Hongbin Qu, chief economis for China at HSBC, said in a note. "Data suggested that the decline was largely driven by softer domestic demand, as new export work rose for the eighth month in a row and at a slightly quicker rate than in November."
While manufacturers cut production for a second straight month in December, the rate of reduction was "only fractional" and not as steep as in November, he said.
Market reaction to the data was subdued. China's Shanghai Composite Index briefly turned negative, erasing a slight 0.1 percent gain, wavering between positive and negative. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slipped 0.1 percent to a one-week low, but then returned to trading flat.
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China's official PMI reading, which focuses more on large, state-owned firms, is due on Thursday. That figure is expected to fall to 50.1 for December, the lowest since mid-2013, according to a Reuters poll.
A housing market adjustment, decelerating credit growth and an advancement of difficult structural reforms in areas such as local government debt management and interest rate liberalization, will present continued headwinds for the world's no. 2 economy in 2015.