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A closely watched independent gauge of China’s services sector diverged further from its official counterpart in March, suggesting growth at smaller and private firms slowed markedly in the first quarter.

The Caixin-Markit services purchasing managers’ index dropped to 52.2 last month, a six-month low that widened the gauge’s spread with the official series produced by China’s statistics bureau.

While the latter focuses more on larger and state-run companies, the divergence in services was mirrored by a dip from Caixin’s manufacturing PMI released over the weekend, which at 51.2 was likewise lower than the official reading.

The Caixin services gauge was brought down by a six-month low in new order growth and the slowest rise in employment for the year to date. While prices charged to clients rose marginally from the previous month, input costs accelerated to the quickest pace since February 2013.

Employment rose at a marginal pace in services last month, but fell in manufacturing, according to the Caixin manufacturing survey, which also contrasted with an official reading that indicated China’s factories had stopped shedding jobs for the first time since 2012 in March.

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