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China's all-important services sector weakens in November

China's food service industry is a key part of the mainland's service sector.
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China's food service industry is a key part of the mainland's service sector.

Activity in China's services sector—the biggest contributor to gross domestic product—slowed in November from the previous month, according to a private survey.

The Caixin/Markit Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for November fell to 51.2 from October's three-month high of 52. In September, the index hit a 14-month low of 50.5. A number above 50 indicates activity is expanding while one below that level indicates a contraction.

Thursday's report was also remarkably weaker than the government's reading and comes on the heels of more downbeat factory data.

Released on Wednesday, the official services PMI for November rose to 53.6 from October's 53.1 while the final Caixin/Markit manufacturing PMI contracted for the ninth straight month in November.

"The drag from manufacturing and the broad-based sluggishness of the services sector means that Chinese real GDP growth likely continues to slow in the fourth quarter in 2015, as expected. More broadly, the drag on global growth from slumping Chinese demand is likely to persist into 2016," said Bill Adams, vice president and senior international economist at PNC Financial Services.

Services activity data, which tracks consumer industries such as real estate, retail, hotels, and restaurants, didn't always attract widespread attention but investors have been increasingly paying close attention as the sector becomes crucial to Beijing's economic rebalancing act.

President Xi Jinping's administration is seeking to replace investment and exports with consumption as the mainland's key growth driver, and recent data indicate healthy progress so far.

Services accounted for 51.4 percent of growth during the third-quarter, compared with 40.6 percent for manufacturing. Moreover, services growth is outperforming the agricultural and industrial sectors.

"Over the past four quarters, the agricultural sector grew 4.8 percent, the industrial sector grew a mere 0.2 percent, while the service sector grew a remarkable 11.9 percent," said the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in a November report.

But while the overall positive trend in services is a boon to China, the report argues it's unlikely to provide much support for the global economy.

"From the rest of the world's point of view, an increase in China's service sector does not offset a similar magnitude decline in its industrial sector...The service sector accounts for very little international trade, with its share of imports only 0.3 times the size of its share in output."

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