China factory index at 19-month low as holiday slows work

China's manufacturing activity has weakened to its lowest level in 19 months as the extended Lunar New Year holiday left the month with fewer work days.

The official purchasing managers' index released Wednesday slipped to 50.3 for February from 51.3 in the previous month.

The index has now fallen for the third straight month though it remains just above the 50-point mark signifying expansion on the index's 100-point scale.

The Federation of Logistics & Purchasing's PMI is a widely watched early indicator of health in a vital component of China's economy, the world's second biggest.

But economists caution that the Lunar New Year tends to distort readings because the holiday falls at different times in the first two months of the year.