The preliminary reading of HSBC’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 50.5, from 51.6 in March. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
A drop in new export orders was blamed for the decline, a sign of weak global demand.
Last year, China’s economy grew at its slowest pace in 13 years.
“New export orders contracted after a temporary rebound in March, suggesting external demand for China’s exporters remains weak,” said Qu Hongbin, China chief economist at HSBC in a statement.
Asian shares fell after the release of the data, with the main index in Shanghai falling 1.4%.
Banks have cut their full-year growth forecasts for China after an unexpected slowdown in the first quarter.
Growth in gross domestic product for the first three months of the year declined to an annual rate of 7.7%, compared with 7.9% in the previous three months.
The World Bank, as well as private sector banks, said they expected growth to slow to 8% this year, though that is still high by global standards.
The government has said it will take steps to try to support the economy.
“Beijing is expected to respond strongly to sustain the economic recovery by increasing efforts to boost domestic investment and consumption in the coming month,” HSBC’s Mr Qu said.
Analysts said it was unlikely Beijing would introduce another massive stimulus package like it did after the global financial crisis in 2008.
Source : BBC News