Asian factories see pick up in new orders

Thu Mar 1, 2012 3:29am EST
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By Sumanta Dey and Kevin Yao

BEIJING/BANGALORE (Reuters) - New factory orders for Asia's manufacturing powerhouses perked up in February, easing some concerns about the global economic slowdown, purchasing managers indexes showed on Thursday.

China's factories grew more than expected in February as new export orders for big firms bounced back, according to a government purchasing managers index (PMI). The official PMI rose to 51.0, above expectations of 50.7 and higher than 50.5 in January.

Private sector PMIs on Thursday pointed to some improvements in factory activity in China, India and Taiwan, although in China it also showed smaller companies lagging a rebound at larger companies.

HSBC's China PMI stood at 49.6, a shade higher than January's reading of 48.8, but still under the 50-point threshold demarcating expansion from contraction.

The manufacturing surveys, the first leads on factory activity in the region, offered tentative signs of a recovery from the slump in the final months of 2011 caused by faltering external demand and fragile business and consumer sentiment. However, the economic picture was far from complete.

"We're in that familiar period where business conditions indicators are improving while the hard data is yet to reflect that," said Robert Prior-Wandesforde, economist at Credit Suisse in Singapore.

Coming barely hours after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony offered a tempered view of the U.S. economy, the PMIs provided markets with some respite. The Australian dollar rallied, aided by robust domestic economic data, as did stock markets in Asia.

Data due later on Thursday is expected to show the euro zone's factory activity contracted in February for a seventh straight month. A similar report on U.S. factory activity is expected to show manufacturing picked up in February.   Continued...