By Charles Riley @CRrileyCNNFebruary 24, 2013: 11:31 PM ET
HONG KONG (CNNMoney)
A key gauge of momentum in China's manufacturing sector fell unexpectedly in February, raising concerns about the strength of recovery in the world's second largest economy.
Global bank HSBC said its "flash" index of purchasing managers' sentiment fell to 50.4 in February from January's final reading of 52.3. Any reading above 50 signals expansion in the manufacturing sector.
The index, which had been on a winning streak, is now at a 4-month low. Still, economists are not ringing the alarm bells.
"The underlying strength of Chinese growth recovery remains intact, as indicated by the still expanding employment and the recent pick-up of credit growth," said Hongbin Qu, an economist at HSBC.
The timing of the Lunar New Year further complicates reading of the data.
Many Chinese factories shut down during the holiday as workers return to the countryside, a migration that can skew PMI readings.