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China’s manufacturing slows to seven-month low

Economists caution that Chinese factory data may be distorted by the Lunar New Year’s effect on schedules.

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Economists caution that Chinese factory data may be distorted by the Lunar New Year’s effect on schedules.

BEIJING — China’s manufacturing contracted for a second straight month in February as a mainstay of the world’s second-largest economy lost momentum amid government efforts to rein in credit and investment growth.

The preliminary version of the HSBC Corp. purchasing managers’ index fell to a seven-month low of 48.3 from January’s 49.5 on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 show activity is contracting. China’s economic activity has slowed as the government tries to reduce reliance on investment in industry and infrastructure and encourage sustainable growth based on domestic consumption.

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HSBC economist Hongbin Qu said the pressure for prices to fall ‘‘implies that the underlying momentum for manufacturing growth could be weakening.’’ He said policy makers should ‘‘fine-tune policy to keep growth at a steady pace in the coming year.’’ February’s PMI reading is the lowest since July’s 47.7. It’s the second month in a row activity has contracted, after a larger-than-expected fall in January roiled global markets.

Last year, China’s economy grew 7.7 percent, high by the standards of advanced economies but barely half the 14.2 percent rate for China in 2007.

Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said the latest data are ‘‘not necessarily a concern’’ as the manufacturing weakness reflects attempts to reduce the economy’s reliance on investment.

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