Service industry growth slowed sharply in China as 2013 drew to a close but picked up across most of Europe, suggesting still very uneven global economic performance even as most signs point to a strengthening U.S. revival.
Taken together with business surveys on manufacturing published late last week, the data suggest that an onslaught of global central bank stimulus has had some impact but is not likely to halt any time soon.
Indeed, while business has picked up in many places, particularly in the euro zone which only recently escaped recession, inflation has been on a downward trend in most industrialised countries.
Asian shares fell to a three-week low after news the HSBC/Markit China services purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to a two-year low of 50.9 from 52.5, underscoring nervousness about how the world's second largest economy is performing.
The equivalent Markit survey for the euro zone went the opposite way, rising to 52.1 from 51.7, with new orders coming in at their fastest pace in more than two years. Any number above 50 denotes expansion.
"That just goes to confirm everyone's suspicions that the Chinese economy is shifting down onto a lower growth path, and that we will see a more balanced growth pattern across the world this year," said Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank. He expects improved growth in Europe and the United States.
The U.S. ISM non-manufacturing survey, comparable with the euro zone and Chinese PMIs, is due at 1500 GMT and is expected to show faster growth there.
Markit said that while the euro zone data suggested only a 0.2 percent quarterly rate of economic growth, "the PMI signalled a strong turnaround in the health of the economy during the course of 2013".
The question is whether that can be sustained, particularly when demand in China, one of the euro zone's biggest trading partners, is just bumping along.
DISINFLATION TAKES HOLD
Inflation pressures, which have been dormant in Western economies for many years now, have taken a second seat to discussions about the world outlook but could again come to the forefront given current trends.
The European Central Bank, which targets inflation at just under 2 percent, cut interest rates in November to a record low of 0.25 percent after surprise news of a plunge in euro zone inflation to just 0.7 percent.
German inflation data due at 1300 GMT could set the tone for financial markets on their first major start to the year as many return