BEIJING: China's factory activity unexpectedly swung to growth in May from decline, a private sector survey showed on Thursday (Jun 1), driven by improved production and demand, helping struggling firms that have been hit by slumping profits.
The Caixin/S&P Global manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 50.9 in May from 49.5 in April, above the 50-point index mark that separates growth from contraction.
The reading surpassed expectations of 49.5 in a Reuters poll, a stark contrast to a deeper contraction activity seen in the official PMI released on Wednesday.
China's recovery from its strict COVID curbs has been fragile and uneven, with economic indicators for April showing imports, factory gate prices and property investment all falling.
The manufacturing subindexes showed factory output rose at the fastest clip in 11 months while new orders including new exports expanded in May.
However, business confidence for the coming 12 months fell to a seven-month low amid concerns over global economic prospects.
Firms, grappling with a slump in industrial profits in April, remained cautious about hiring, with the employment subindex shrinking for the third consecutive month in May.
Insufficient demand is the main constraint for the recovery and deflation risks are rising in the world's second-biggest economy, analysts say.
The input and output prices gauges continued their declines in May.
"Current economic growth lacks internal drive and that market entities lack sufficient confidence, highlighting the importance of expanding and restoring demand, " said Wang Zhe, senior economist at Caixin Insight Group.
Further monetary policy easing is expected by some economists.
"The central bank will likely cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 25bps to maintain financial stability, in our view," said ANZ in a research note on Wednesday. "The likelihood of frontloading the rate cut is also rising."
The Caixin PMI is believed to focus on more export-oriented and small firms in coastal regions and is compiled by S&P Global from responses to questionnaires sent to purchasing managers in China.