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LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Emerging markets ended 2012 with a modest acceleration in economic growth thanks to a pick-up in manufacturing activity that hints at further improvement in coming months, a survey found on Thursday.
All four big BRIC economies posted a rise in economic activity in the last quarter of 2012, with Chinese manufacturing returning to growth for the first time in 18 months, according to HSBC's emerging markets index (EMI).
The EMI, based on 23 service and manufacturing purchasing managers' surveys conducted in 18 countries, rose to 52.9, up marginally from 52.2 in the July-September quarter.
While the index is under its post-financial-crisis average of 54.4, it is inching further away from the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction.
"The main message is that emerging markets ended the year with a slightly better tone. We saw improvement in the last quarter and two weeks into 2013, individual PMIs in China and Asia have shown improvement," said Murat Ulgen, chief economist for CEEMEA at HSBC.
Various surveys show activity across Asia rose in December, with China's official purchasing managers' index matching November's seven-month high. Services growth accelerated to the fastest in four months .
"There is a glimmer of hope that this momentum can continue in the first quarter of 2013," Ulgen said.
The survey revealed that Brazilian and Chinese manufacturing had returned to growth while India, Mexico, Turkey and Russia expanded at a faster clip than the previous quarter. Russian output grew at the fastest rate since mid-2010.
Service sector activity across emerging markets also picked up marginally from the last quarter.
A headwind to recovery comes from the exports downturn caused by the weakness in the developed world.
While new orders rose across emerging markets at the highest pace since early 2011, the gains were down to an increase in domestic consumption rather than exports, HSBC said.
Only four countries - India, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey - recorded a rise in export orders, with broader emerging markets seeing export business contract for the fourth quarter in a row.
HSBC noted, however, that the decrease was the slowest since the first quarter of 2012 while employment increased at the strongest rate in six quarters. The survey also found that stocks of finished manufactured goods had fallen for the first time since early 2012 across emerging markets.
Ulgen said countries geared to the growing power of China would likely recover faster than those oriented to the euro zone and the United States, a shift HSBC terms the Big Rotation.
"The world is driven more and more by China. Countries such as Korea or Singapore that are more hooked up to China in terms of trade are benefiting, as are those such as Australia and Chile that are catering to China's commodities demand," he said.
The picture was less cheerful for central Europe, the emerging region bordering the crisis-hit euro zone.
The Czech Republic and Poland, along with Israel and Taiwan, posted the biggest falls in new export orders. Poland and the Czech Republic were also among countries that saw the most job losses.
The index is calculated using data produced by Markit.