China's factory activity contracted for the first time in 11 months, a private survey showed on Thursday, as output and new orders slowed and companies shed jobs.
The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' index (PMI) fell to 49.6 in May, lower than a 50.1 forecast by analysts polled by Reuters and lower than April's 50.3.
A reading above 50.0 indicates expansion in manufacturing, and a reading below that level points to a contraction in activity.
The Shanghai Composite Index weakened after the data was released.
"Softer growth in output reflected a relatively muted increase in total new orders during May," Caixin and IHS Markit said in a joint press release.
"Furthermore, growth in new order books was also the slowest seen since the current upturn began in July 2016. Data indicated that customer demand was relatively subdued both at home and overseas, with new export sales rising at a similarly marginal pace," it added.
The contraction in Caixin's PMI reading contrasted with an official reading released on Thursday, which showed PMI for the month of May came in at 51.2 — higher than the 51.0 expected and even with 51.2 in April. Meanwhile, China's official services PMI rose to 54.5 in May from 54.0 in April.
Compared with the official PMI, the Caixin/Markit survey tends to focus more on small- and mid-sized manufacturers, suggesting that smaller firms are under more pressure than their larger, state-backed peers.
"China's manufacturing sector has come under greater pressure in May and the economy is clearly on a downward trajectory," said Zhengsheng Zhong, macroeconomic analysis director at CEBM Group, a Caixin subsidiary.