China's official purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to 50.4 in October from 51.2 in September, countering expectations for a rise. The National Bureau of Statistics blamed the drop on weak European and US. economies.
A private-sector PMI though set a different direction, rising in October to 51.0 from 49.9 in September, the index's first rise above 50 that demarcates contraction from expansion since June.
Taken together, the PMIs backed the consensus view that Chinese interest rates will remain on hold as Beijing balances a need to tackle inflation with concerns that growth is slowing down.
Instead, more fine-tuning via a policy of so-called selective easing to help specific sectors of industry may be in the pipeline.
"All these signs may give Beijing good reason to adopt kind of selective easing in the monetary policy in the coming months," Tang Jianwei, an economist at Bank of Communications in Shanghai, said.
"We expect the central bank may opt for net injection in the money market operations and may loosen some bank loan curbs in the months ahead. There is also a chance of cutting the reserve requirement ratio for banks in the fourth quarter," Tang said.
It's not unusual for the two indexes to deliver divergent results.
China's official PMI, compiled by the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP) for the National Bureau of Statistics, gathers more data from the country's biggest manufacturers.
The private-sector gauge, compiled by UK-based private-sector data specialist Markit in conjunction with HSBC, focuses on the small and medium-sized enterprises that provide around 75 per cent of the jobs in China.
Still, the drop in the official PMI to its lowest level since February 2009 rattled the Australian dollar, which fell almost half a cent against the U.S. dollar immediately after the index was released. It also added to bearish sentiment in stock markets.
"The fall of PMI in October points to further economic slowdown in the future," Zhang Liqun, a researcher with the Development Research Centre of the State Council, wrote in the CFLP statement.