Survey: China’s manufacturing activity ticks up in March

BEIJING—A gauge of Chinese manufacturing improved in March in a possible sign government efforts to reverse an economic slowdown amid a tariff war with Washington might be gaining traction.

The statistics bureau and an industry group said Sunday their monthly purchasing managers’ index rose to 50.5 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show activity increasing. That was up 1.3 points from February.

Chinese manufacturing declined last year as the fight with President Donald Trump over Beijing’s technology ambitions weighed on exports and domestic consumer demand weakened.

The government loosened lending controls and increased spending to reverse the slowdown, but authorities moved gradually to avoid igniting a rise in debt. The ruling Communist Party also has promised to give entrepreneurs who generate China’s new jobs and wealth a bigger role in the economy.

Private sector forecasters expect the downturn to bottom out by mid-year say any growth rebound will be modest. Chinese leaders warned previously that a recovery would be “L-shaped,” meaning the decline would end but there would be no return to the previous decade’s double-digit growth.

Last year’s growth in the world’s second-largest economy sank to a three-decade low of 6.6 per cent. The ruling party set this year’s official target at 6 to 6.5 per cent as part of efforts to steer the economy to a more sustainable expansion based on domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports and investment.

Exports in the first two months of 2019 fell 4.6 per cent from a year earlier.

U.S. and Chinese negotiators met last week in Beijing for talks aimed at ending the tariff war that has weighed on sales of goods from soybeans to medical equipment. They ended Friday with no formal agreement but the two sides said they would meet again in Washington.

“The confidence of enterprises, production and operation activities are showing a recovery trend,” said the National Bureau of Statistics and the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing in a statement.

Sub-indexes for exports, employment and new orders all improved.

An index that shows expectations by companies of future new business rose 0.6 points to 56.8.