Factory output in China shrank in November for the first time in nearly three years as demand at home and abroad fell, the latest data showed on Thursday.
The news underlines the central bank's move to cut bank reserve requirements to shore up the economy.
Data from China's official and HSBC purchasing managers' indexes are likely to feed worries that the global economy is on a slippery slope as the euro zone is marred by its debt crisis, reinforcing expectations that China will ease policy further.
The official PMI released by the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP) fell to 49 in November from October's 50.4, suggesting activity among big manufacturers shrank in November for the first time since the global financial crisis.
The reading was below the median forecast of 50 in a Reuters poll. That level demarcates expansion from contraction.
"The November PMI dropped further to below the boom-bust line of 50... indicates that the economic growth pace would continue to moderate in the future," Zhang Liqun, a researcher with the Development Research Centre of the State Council, wrote in the CFLP statement.
The CFLP said the sub-index for new orders fell to 47.8 in November from 50.5 in October, while the sub-index for new export orders dipped to 45.6 in November from October's 48.6. Both sets of figures suggest the domestic and overseas new order books are shrinking.
Meanwhile, the HSBC China PMI dropped to a 32-month low of 47.7 in November from October's 51. A sub-index for new orders skidded to a 32-month low of 45 from 52.6 in October.
"The November PMI final reading points to a sharp deterioration in business conditions across the Chinese manufacturing sector," said Qu Hongbin, China economist at HSBC.
In one bright sign though, new export orders in the HSBC survey, geared more to smaller and private-sector factories, was comfortably above 50, suggesting growth.
In addition to global headwinds, China's once red-hot real estate sector is slowing down as home prices and sales fall.
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