By Jonathan Cable
LONDON (Reuters) - Business started 2017 on a solid footing, surveys showed on Friday, thriving ahead of a myriad of political risks in the coming year.
Fears of a growing protectionist agenda in the United States, whether national elections across Europe upset the status quo and just how fractious Britain's divorce proceedings from the European Union become, are all expected to weigh in the months ahead.
Yet so far those risks seem to have been mostly ignored with firms from Asia to Europe increasing or at least largely maintaining activity. Similar upbeat results are expected later from the United States..
Euro zone businesses started 2017 by increasing activity at the same multi-year record pace they set in December.
China's factory activity grew for a seventh month and while India's services business contracted for a third month as firms struggled to recover from a government crackdown on currency in circulation, the pace slowed.
"The outlook for this year is reasonably bright despite all the risks. The numbers for January have generally been quite positive," said Andrew Kenningham, chief global economist at Capital Economics.
Growth in Britain's services sector slowed for the first time in four months in January, dipping just below its long-run average, as businesses battled the sharpest rise in costs in more than five years.
But on Thursday the Bank of England sharply revised up its growth forecast for 2017 to 2.0 percent, a view held by only the most optimistic forecaster in a Reuters poll of 50 economists taken last month.
Britain's economy unexpectedly outpaced all its major peers last year, wrongfooting those who expected an immediate hit from June's Brexit vote.
The Markit/CIPS British services Purchasing Managers' Index dropped to a three-month low of 54.5 last month from December's 15-month high, at the bottom end of a range of forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists, but Markit said the PMIs still point to first quarter growth of 0.5 percent.
IHS Markit's final composite PMI for the euro zone, seen as a good guide to growth, held at 54.4. It has not been higher since May 2011 and has remained above the 50 mark dividing growth from contraction since mid-2013.
That points to first quarter expansion of 0.4 percent, Markit said, matching the median prediction in a Reuters poll.
"Despite the slightly disappointing outcome this remains a very strong report," said James Knightley, senior economist at ING.
China's factory activity expanded for the seventh straight month in January, giving Beijing more room to tackle chronic imbalances in the economy. The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing PMI fell to 51.0.
The world's second largest economy has seen a broad-based pickup in recent months, with fourth-quarter GDP beating expectations due largely to a strong housing market and higher government spending on infrastructure projects.
A recovery in the country's "smokestack" industries has also been supported by government mandates to close down outdated production capacity in the coal and steel sectors, as well as a rebound in investment in the property sector that came amid a record flood of credit.
India's Nikkei/IHS Markit Services PMI remained below 50 registering 48.7 in January as firms still reel from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision in November to abolish high-value bank notes.
Modi's policy removed 86 percent of the currency in circulation, hitting consumption and capital investments, and shattered traditional cash-reliant supply chains.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
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