China Manufacturing Expands at Faster Pace, PMIs Show

China’s manufacturing expanded at a faster pace last month, indicating a recovery in the world’s second-largest economy is sustaining momentum.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index was 50.9, the National Bureau of Statistics and China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said today in Beijing, an 11-month high and up from 50.1 in February. A separate gauge from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics rose to 51.6 in March from 50.4. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.

Gauges of output and export orders advanced in the official survey while an index of input prices declined, a boost for new Premier Li Keqiang as he seeks to spur expansion without fanning inflation. The March improvement follows the weakest January-February growth for factory output since 2009 and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s questioning of the strength of exports.

“We are clearly in a lot better state than we were at the end of last year,” Alistair Thornton, a Beijing-based economist at researcher IHS Inc., said in a Bloomberg Television interview, terming the momentum “modest.” At the same time, the economy faces “fairly large headwinds” including property curbs and tighter supervision of so-called shadow banking, he said.

The government PMI was lower than the 51.2 median estimate of 26 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. The HSBC index’s final reading matched the median estimate of 10 analysts. The preliminary level issued March 21 was 51.7.

‘Weak’ Recovery

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index of stocks fell 0.1 percent at the close. The gauge dropped 3.9 percent last week, the most in five weeks, while the yuan strengthened for a fifth straight week and touched a 19-year high.

Today’s reports “reinforce our view of a weak economic recovery” in the first half and a “sharp slowdown” in the second half, Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Hong Kong, said in a note today.

The surveys compare with a quarterly report showing confidence among big Japanese manufacturers improved by less than economists estimated. Another HSBC survey showed South Korea’s manufacturing expanded at a faster pace in March.

China’s largest cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, tightened rules on home purchases, effective yesterday, after the central government called for stepped-up efforts to cool the property market. The nation’s banking regulator told lenders last week to limit investments of client funds in debt that isn’t publicly traded and to isolate such risks from their operations.

Growth Pickup

Economic growth may have accelerated for a second quarter to 8.1 percent in the first three months of this year, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey last month. Gross domestic product expanded 7.9 percent in the final three months of last year after a 7.4 percent gain in the previous quarter, reversing a seven-quarter slowdown.

Previous figures have presented a mixed picture of the recovery so far this year. Retail sales had their weakest January-February growth since 2004, while foreign direct investment rose for the first time in nine months in February and industrial companies’ profits gained 17.2 percent in the first two months of the year.

The official PMI report showed improvement across sub-indexes. An output gauge rose to 52.7 in March from 51.2 in February, new orders increased to 52.3 from 50.1 and new export orders climbed to 50.9 from 47.3. Input prices, a measure of inflation, declined to 50.6 from 55.5.

Export Figures

Goldman Sachs said in a research report last week that China’s export statistics probably overstated growth in the last few months, potentially because companies provided inflated data.

The federation in January increased the number of companies in its survey to 3,000 from 820 and reclassified the industries they cover into 21 groups from 31. HSBC’s index is based on responses from purchasing managers at more than 420 businesses and is weighted more toward small companies.

Li, who succeeded Wen Jiabao as premier last month in a once-a-decade leadership transition, signaled last week that the government will take steps this year to loosen state control over interest rates and the yuan as part of efforts to sustain economic growth.

“China will actively push forward reforms in important sectors and try to make substantial progress,” the State Council, or cabinet, said in a March 27 statement after a meeting led by Li. The government will work out a plan for fiscal and tax policy changes this year, according to the statement.

Great Wall Motor Co., China’s biggest maker of SUVs and pickup trucks, reported on March 21 that its profit surged to a record last year, helped by demand for its Haval vehicles. The Baoding-based automaker’s net income rose 66 percent to 5.69 billion yuan ($916 million) in 2012.

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