(Corrects to say February was 19th straight month of expansion, not 20th )
BEIJING, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Growth in China’s manufacturing sector in February slowed more than expected to it lowest since July 2016, as the week-long Lunar New Year holiday disrupted business activity and tougher pollution rules curtailed factory output.
The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) released on Wednesday fell to 50.3 in February, from 51.3 in January. But it remained just above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.
That would mark the 19th straight month of expansion for China’s manufacturers, but the drop may raise some concerns for the country’s leaders as they prepare for the start of the National People’s Congress next week where Beijing will unveil its economic targets for this year.
Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast the reading would ease marginally to 51.2.
Boosted by government infrastructure spending, a resilient property market and unexpected strength in exports, China’s manufacturing and industrial firms helped the economy produce better-than-expected growth of 6.9 percent in 2017, its first annual acceleration in seven years. (Reporting by Stella Qiu and Beijing Monitoring Desk Editing by Shri Navaratnam)