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U.S. Factory Activity Picks Up a Bit

Wall Street Journal (04/01/14) Ben Leubsdorg; Kathleen Madigan

Manufacturing in the U.S. increased slightly in March after a weak winter, indicating the economy is on steadier footing at the start of the second quarter. The Institute for Supply Management’s most recent national gauge of factory activity rose to 53.7 in March from 53.2 in February. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

However, the improvements are short of the economic upturn many forecasters expected by this time of the year. Particularly troubling is that employment growth slowed to its lowest level since June 2013, and while production saw its largest month-to-month increase since mid-2009, it was still below its December 2013 level. “A lot of this is still weather-related, and because production is so strong and the backlog is so high, I’m pretty sure that [factory hiring] will pick up in the coming months,” says Bradley Holcomb, chairman of ISM’s manufacturing business survey committee.