China's factory PMI below 50-point mark for fourth straight month

A key measure of China's manufacturing activity has slightly improved, but the benchmark index has fallen below the 50-point boom-or-bust line for the fourth straight month.

The Purchasing Managers' Index for January came in at 49.2, up 0.2 points from the previous month.

The National Bureau of Statistics conducts a survey on 3,200 manufacturers to compile the index. Figures above 50 represent growth, and those below indicate contraction.

The latest index mainly reflects persistently sluggish domestic demand amid a prolonged slump in the real estate market and difficult employment conditions.

The index for large companies stood at 50.4. But the readings for smaller firms remain below the 50-point mark, with midsize enterprises showing 48.9 and small firms 47.2.

The gauge for non-manufacturers, including those in the service sector, rose by 0.3 points to 50.7.

Analysists note that businesses will likely become increasingly cautious on China's economic outlook, as a court in Hong Kong ordered the liquidation of major property developer Evergrande Group on Monday.