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March 4, 2005

Manufacturing activity in U.S. grew more slowly in February

WASHINGTON

The U.S. manufacturing sector grew at a slower pace for the third consecutive month in February, though after 21 consecutive months of expansion economists remain confident that the broader trend will continue.

The Institute for Supply Management, a private research group, said Tuesday that its index measuring manufacturing activity declined to 55.3 in February from a reading of 56.4 in January.

The February figure was below the reading of 57 anticipated by analysts and was the index’s lowest level since September 2003.

A reading of 50 or above in the index means the manufacturing sector is expanding, while a figure below 50 represents a contraction. The manufacturing data from ISM is watched closely by economists and investors because it offers the first comprehensive look at factory activity for the prior month.

Oscar Gonzalez, an economist at John Hancock Financial Services in Boston, said U.S. manufacturing is not growing as fast as he would like, but he predicted that the weak dollar and the strength of the rest of the economy would help the sector continue to expand in the months ahead.

Even though it has been one of the slowest recovering sectors since the recession, particularly in terms of employment, Gonzalez described himself “quite optimistic” about the country’s manufacturing base.

Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns, said “the strongest growth is behind us” but that he does not consider the loss of momentum to augur contraction in the manufacturing sector.

The Associated Press

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