LONDON/BEIJING – Chinese manufacturing returned to growth in November for the first time in over a year and the deep downturn in euro zone factories eased slightly, according to business surveys on Monday.
Monday's purchasing managers indexes (PMIs) suggested China, whose economy has misfired this year, is regaining its vigor going into 2013.
If sustained, it could prove vital for the world economy next year since a meaningful recovery in Europe still looks a long way off.
While the decline among the euro zone's embattled factories eased to an eight-month low in November, the latest PMIs showed the economy is on course for its worst quarter since the depths of early 2009.
Data due from the United States later on Monday is expected to show manufacturing growth slowed slightly in November.
"They could be worse. We're not in a situation where all the manufacturing PMIs are heading downwards," said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec in London.
He added the Chinese PMIs were encouraging, although their significance, globally speaking, was unclear.
"They're not a pointer necessarily the rest of the global economy is recovering -- we suspect there is an element of domestically driven growth coming through in the numbers there."
Monday's final reading of HSBC's China manufacturing PMI rose to 50.5 in November from 49.5 in October, the first time since October 2011 the headline number has topped the 50-point growth threshold.
The big emerging economies that have contributed most to global growth in recent years have been sputtering of late, with India expected to post its weakest full-year GDP expansion in a decade and Brazil logging an unexpectedly weak third quarter.
That has left investors once again hoping China will take up the slack, after seven straight quarters of slowing growth.
"There is growing confidence that China's economy bottomed in July-September, with signs of firmer external demand," said Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.
The euro hit a six-week high and shares rose after the release of Monday's PMIs.
Markit's Eurozone manufacturing PMI rose to 46.2 in November from October's 45.4, though it stayed below the 50 mark dividing growth from contraction for the 16th straight month.
There was little sign of an imminent turnaround, however, with the data merely showing factory activity, new orders and output declining at a slower rate.
"With official data lagging the PMI, the rate of GDP decline is likely to have gathered pace markedly on the surprisingly modest 0.1 percent decline seen in the third quarter," said Chris Williamson, chief economist from survey compiler Markit.
But the PMI appeared to bottom out in July and slowly reviving export demand in markets like the U.S. and China should further help arrest the fall in production and job cuts in euro zone factories, he added.
British manufacturing activity shrank less than expected in November, but the sector remained fragile as orders edged down, a survey found on Monday.
In the United States, the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) index of national factory activity, one of two PMI surveys due on Monday, is expected to decline slightly to 51.3 for November, still above the 50-line, from 51.7 in October.
The most pressing threat to the U.S. economy remains a series of automatic budget cuts and tax hikes due at the end of the year that could plunge the country back into recession, unless opposing politicians can come to a deal to avert it.
As of the weekend, neither side has been willing to yield.
Aside from China, the outlook for other major Asian economies looks uncertain.
Monetary easing by the big developed world central banks has been blamed for pushing up the currencies of countries such as Korea and Taiwan, hampering their export-led recoveries.
South Korea's HSBC/Markit PMI edged up in November, but was still below the key 50-mark for the sixth month in succession.
Taiwan's PMI reading has also been below 50 for six successive months, with the headline number deteriorating to 47.4 in November from 47.8 in October on weakening demand at home and abroad.
India's factory activity has been expanding for over three-and-a-half years, although it remains well below the expansion rate seen in the years before the global financial crisis.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)