A monthly purchasing managers’ index issued Sunday slipped to 50.6, down from 50.8 in April. A reading above 50 means that manufacturing is growing.
The figures indicate that manufacturing picked up in May, although more slowly than the previous month, said Zhao Qinghe, a senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics.
The index, compiled by the the statistics bureau and the official China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, has bounced back from a historic low of 35.7 in February, when many factories were shut at the peak of the virus outbreak in China.
Factories have reopened as China has ended lockdowns and eased restrictions on commuting and travel, but the spread of the pandemic has slowed economies globally, depressing demand for Chinese exports.
In a worrying sign, the index for export orders in the monthly report remained low at 35.3, though up from 33.5 in April. That suggests exports will remain soft for at least a while.
Qinghe noted that indexes for new orders overall picked up in 12 of 21 sectors, which he said indicates improving domestic demand.