BEIJING, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- China's manufacturing activity contracted for the first time in six months in January, pointing to a shaky start to 2014 for the world's second-largest economy, showed results of a private sector survey on Thursday.
The HSBC/Markit China manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) for January dipped to 49.5 from 50.5 in December, the first deterioration of operating conditions in China's manufacturing sector since July. The final reading was in line with the 49.6 reported in the preliminary version of the PMI released last week.
A PMI reading below 50 indicates contraction, while one above 50 signals expansion.
According to the survey, the first hint of the national economy's performance, the growth rates in the output and new business sub-indices weakened and companies cut jobs at the fastest pace since March 2009.
Qu Hongbin, chief China economist with HSBC, described the dynamic as "a soft start to China's manufacturing sectors in 2014, partly due to weaker new export orders and slower domestic business activities during January."
Policy makers should pay attention to downside risks and preemptively fine-tune policy to steady the pace of growth if needed, Qu said.
Last week's flash HSBC PMI reading sparked concerns about a slowdown in China's economy and contributed to a fall in the global financial markets.
China's annual economic growth slowed to 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 from the third quarter's 7.8 percent, setting the full-year growth at 7.7 percent, slightly above the government's target of 7.5 percent.
Although the headline GDP growth remains stable, analysts expect a further moderation as the focus of the authorities is now turned to forging a more sustainable model and pushing ahead with various reforms.
The government has yet to announce its 2014 growth target, which analysts widely expect to be set at 7 percent or 7.5 percent.