China's manufacturing activity contracted to a 11-month low in July, an HSBC survey showed Wednesday, the first evidence of the Asian economic giant losing further momentum in the third quarter.
The British banking giant said its preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI) hit 47.7 this month, down from a final 48.2 in June and the lowest since August.
The index tracks manufacturing activity in China's factories and workshops and is a closely watched gauge of the health of the economy. A reading below 50 indicates contraction, while anything above signals expansion.
The sluggish reading "suggests a continuous slowdown in manufacturing sectors thanks to weaker new orders and faster destocking", Qu Hongbin, HSBC economist based in Hong Kong, said in the release announcing the figure.
"This adds more pressure on the labour market," Qu said, adding it "reinforces the need" for policy support from Beijing to stabilise economic growth.
China's economy has been weakening this year, with growth in the April-June period dipping to 7.5%, from 7.7% in the first quarter and 7.9% in October-December.
The government, which has set a full-year growth target of 7.5% for 2013, has so far refrained from priming the economy with stimulus measures of the kind it took in the wake of the global financial crisis and even last year.
But Premier Li Keqiang reportedly said earlier this month that annual growth of seven percent was a minimum, raising expectations the government may take steps to bolster the economy.
The latest PMI reading suggest China's growth "has slowed further at the start of the third quarter", Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, the financial information company that compiles the data for HSBC, said in a separate statement.