BEIJING--Activity in China's service sector expanded at a faster pace in December, a private gauge showed Thursday, adding to recent signs of firmness in China's economy.

The Caixin China services purchasing managers' index rose to 53.4 in December from 53.1 in November, Caixin Media Co. and research firm Markit said.

A reading above 50 indicates a month-to-month expansion, while a reading below that points to a contraction.

Increased new orders and a 17-month high for growth in new work lifted confidence among service providers, Caixin said.

"The Chinese economy performed better in the fourth quarter than in the previous three quarters," said Zhengsheng Zhong, an economist at CEBM Group. "The sub-indices of new orders, input costsand prices charged all went up," Mr. Zhong said, adding it was out of the question that Beijing's growth target for the year would not be reached.

The rise in the private gauge came despite a decline in an official measure of activity outside the factory sector. China's official nonmanufacturing PMI, which includes the construction sector, edged down to 54.5 in December from 54.7 in November, the National Bureau of Statistics said Sunday.

The Caixin China Services is based on monthly questionnaires sent to purchasing executives at more than 400 service-sector companies.

Write to Pei Li at pei.li@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 04, 2017 21:21 ET (02:21 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.