China's Manufacturing Activity Slows in December

New business increased at the slowest pace in three months.

Manufacturing activity in China slowed in December but soaring raw material costs continued to fan inflationary pressures in the world's second-largest economy, an independent survey said on Dec. 30.

The HSBC China Manufacturing PMI, or purchasing managers' index, slipped to 54.4 in December from 55.3 in November as output and new business increased at the slowest pace in three months.

The expansion of manufacturing activity this month was fuelled by domestic demand, with only a "modest" expansion in new export orders, the bank said.

But manufacturing activity in the fourth quarter, as a whole, was the strongest since the first three months of the year.

The data came as the yuan reached the strongest level against the dollar since Beijing vowed in June to loosen exchange rate controls, which a central bank official said on Dec. 30 helps cut import costs and curb inflation.

The People's Bank of China set the yuan central parity rate -- the middle of the currency's allowed trading band -- at 6.6229 to the dollar, meaning it has appreciated about 3% against the greenback since June 19.

The gradual appreciation in the yuan has had only a small impact on employment and growth, Sheng Songcheng, director of the PBOC's Statistics and Analysis Department, wrote in an article in the Financial News. At the same time, it benefits the world's second-largest economy by reducing import costs, easing inflation pressures and prompting Chinese companies to become more competitive, Sheng wrote, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Despite the gains in the yuan, average input prices rose for the fifth straight month, albeit at the slowest pace in three months, driven mainly by soaring raw material, energy and fuel costs, the HSBC survey showed.

Purchasing managers said their factories were passing on the higher costs to customers by hiking factory-gate prices for products, highlighting the need for further monetary tightening measures, HSBC chief economist Qu Hongbin said. As a result, output price inflation remained strong.

"Inflation rather than growth still remains as the top policy concern, despite the moderation in December's manufacturing PMI reading," Qu said in a note.

"We expect Beijing to continue relying on quantitative tightening measures to curb inflation ... while modest interest rate hikes are also needed to anchor inflation expectations in the coming months."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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