China’s official gauge of manufacturing activity for February suffered its largest drop since 2011, an unexpectedly sharp slowdown that left it near the zero-growth level. The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index published by China’s National Bureau of Statistics fell to 50.3, down a point from January and the largest fall in more than six years. The fall marked the gauge’s nearest brush with the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction since August 2016.
A median forecast from economists polled by Reuters had predicted only a fractional slowdown: none of the 28 forecasts for February had pencilled in a reading below 51 for the gauge, which is based on a survey of larger and predominantly state-run companies. China’s statistics bureau on Wednesday attributed the slowdown to the lunar new year holiday, when migrant workers return to their home villages and output typically dips. In 2017 the holiday stretched from the end of January through early February, while this year’s holiday fell entirely in February, making for an unfavourable comparison.