Manufacturing growth eases in Europe, Asia; U.S. rebounds

LONDON/BEIJING/NEW YORK Mon Mar 3, 2014 1:27pm EST

Containers are seen at a port of Shanghai Free Trade Zone, February 11, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Aly Song

Containers are seen at a port of Shanghai Free Trade Zone, February 11, 2014 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Aly Song

LONDON/BEIJING/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Manufacturing growth in Europe and Asia slowed last month, pressured by falling demand from abroad, while the United States bucked the trend with manufacturing expanding at its fastest pace in over three years.

A measure of euro zone growth edged lower in February, though output expanded in all of the bloc's four biggest economies simultaneously for the first time in almost three years.

One measure of manufacturing in China meanwhile showed contraction in the sector, while a separate official manufacturing PMI fell to just above the 50 level that separates contraction from expansion. Surveys for other Asia countries were mixed.

Markit's final Euro zone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) came in at 53.2 for February, up from a flash reading of 53.0 but below January's 54, which was the highest since May 2011. The index measuring manufacturing output, which feeds into a composite PMI that is seen as a good gauge of growth, dipped from January's 33-month high.

"(This) reinforces the suspicion that it is going to be far from plain sailing for the euro zone in 2014," said Howard Archer at IHS Global Insight. "While the euro zone may be establishing modest growth, it is still finding it hard to build up momentum."

Gross domestic product across the region expanded 0.3 percent in the final three months of last year, thanks to stronger expansion in France and Germany, and is expected to match that pace each quarter this year.

European firms increased headcount for the second straight month. But worryingly for the European Central Bank, which meets this week to set policy, inflation pressures subsided again.

British manufacturing grew more quickly than expected, however, adding to signs that the country's economic recovery is broadening out. The pace of job creation in the country's sector meanwhile hit a 33-month high. <GB/PMIM>

U.S. factory activity growth rose to its highest since May 2010, according to financial data firm Markit. Separately, the Institute for Supply Management said its index of U.S. factory activity rose to 53.2 in February, topping expectations and reversing two months of slowing growth.

The U.S. data was aided by a rebound in new orders, a forward-looking gauge that had been a primary factor in January's weakness. ISM's new orders subindex rose to 54.5 from 51.2 in the previous report. Markit's gauge of new orders climbed to its highest since April 2010, rising to 59.6 from 53.9.

The strength in the U.S. helped boost JPMorgan's Global Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, which indicated growth accelerated at its fastest pace in nearly three years in February, with much of that advance coming from developed markets.

The U.S. PMI shot up, JPMorgan said, while upturns in Japan and Britain remained robust. In contrast, PMIs for China, South Korea and Russia signaled contraction, while rates of growth in India, Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia were all below the global level.

Unease over emerging markets drove equity trading on Monday, as Ukraine and Russia prepared for possible war after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared he had the right to invade his neighbor.

The MSCI International ACWI Price Index .MIWD00000PUS fell 1.5 percent while European shares .FTEU3 lost 2.2 percent and major U.S. indexes all fell more than 1 percent.

FRAGILE CHINA

The HSBC/Markit China manufacturing PMI fell to 48.5 in February, while a government manufacturing PMI on Saturday had suggested the slowest growth in eight months.

"The Chinese numbers were a little disappointing compared to what we have seen in recent months," said Peter Dixon at Commerzbank.

Although Chinese factories struggled to expand as export orders fell, services firms regained some momentum. China's official non-manufacturing PMI rose to a three-month high.

"If the services PMI is to be believed, the service sector is not doing so bad, but ... the manufacturing, or the investment-heavy sector, not as well," said Wei Yao, China economist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong.

In recent weeks, other Chinese indicators have been mixed. Weak investment and declining PMIs have been countered by surprisingly buoyant exports and bank lending figures.

Parliament's annual session is due to start on Wednesday and will provide the next marker for financial markets on the outlook for the world's second-biggest economy.

Premier Li Keqiang is widely expected to say the government will maintain the 2013 growth target of 7.5 percent in 2014.

Although the pace of expansion has slowed sharply from the breakneck double-digit pace of the last three decades, analysts at BofAML said that growth rate was achievable this year.

"We don't think policymakers will attach a big weight to the PMI readings in January and February," they said in a client note. "We think the government has enough policy room to achieve 7.5 percent GDP growth this year."

The HSBC/Markit PMI for South Korea fell below 50 for the first time in five months but Japanese manufacturers are still growing strongly, aided by the aggressive economic stimulus policies promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In India, where the economy is less reliant on exports, the PMI rose to its highest level in a year.

(Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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