China’s factory activity expanded faster than expected in February as domestic and export demand picked up, adding to signs that the global economy is regaining momentum even as fears grow of a surge in trade protectionism.
Growth in both output and orders accelerated last month, according to official and private factory surveys on Wednesday, giving the government more room to focus on tackling financial risks to the economy as debt continues to rise.
“This is the 7th consecutive month that China’s official manufacturing PMI stayed within expansionary territory, suggesting that industrial activity remains buoyant,” said Zhou Hao, emerging markets economist at Commerzbank AG in Singapore.
Zhou said it was “very likely” that China’s central bank would raise short-term interest rates by a another 10 basis points in March — which would mark the third such move in as many months — as authorities grow more confident that the economy is on steadier footing.
Facing growing risks from explosive growth in debt, China’s central bank has cautiously shifted its stance in recent months to a tightening bias after years of super-loose policy to stave off the risk of a hard landing for the world’s second-largest economy.
Policy sources have told Reuters that China’s leaders will accept a lower economic growth target of around 6.5 percent in 2017, and target a less aggressive expansion of money supply, as the focus slowly shifts from growth to pushing reforms to contain debt and housing risks.
China’s industrial sector has benefited from a construction boom since the middle of last year that has spurred demand and prices for building materials from cement to steel, boosting sales and profits.
The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released on Wednesday rose to a three-month high of 51.6 in February, compared with the previous month’s 51.3, and above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.
Analysts had expected a reading of 51.1.
Output rose at a faster pace of 53.7, compared to 53.1 in January, while overall new order growth also picked up.