A key indicator of Chinese manufacturing activity fell to a seven-month low in February, HSBC bank said Thursday.

The preliminary HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index slipped to 48.3, down from 49.5 in January, according to the Hong Kong-based institution.

A reading of below 50 indicates monthly contraction in that sector.

HSBC compiles the Manufacturing PMI based on surveys of purchasing managers in the manufacturing sector and reports the reading just days before equivalent official Chinese data is released.

At times, the two results differ significantly.

Economists expect that the pace of Chinese growth will continue to slow and believe the slowdown in the manufacturing sector will be particularly acute as the government reins in access to credit as part of an effort to change China's economic model to one less focused on exports.

However, other indicators released in early 2014, showing a rise in bank loans and growth in exports (up 10.6 percent in January from the same month of 2013) seem to contract those forecasts.

Additionally, Chinese macroeconomic figures for January and February tend to be skewed by the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.