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U.S. Factories Slow for Fifth Month in Row, but Economists See Rebound

Wall Street Journal (04/01/15) Kathleen Madigan

U.S. manufacturers struggled in the first quarter, but economists say the sector likely will rebound during the spring along with the wider economy. The Institute for Supply Management yesterday said its purchasing managers index declined for the fifth consecutive month in March, to 51.5 from 52.9 in February. The reading is the lowest since May 2013, but remains above 50.0, which signals expansion. The March employment index fell to 50.0, which indicates no change in factory payrolls.

Manufacturers cited several issues that dampened activity in March, including lingering problems from the West Coast port slowdown, harsh winter weather, higher health care premiums, and a stronger dollar. Declining oil prices are “having both positive and negative impacts depending upon the industry,” the report says. Many forecasters have cut their estimate for first-quarter economic growth, but they expect the U.S. will realize solid growth for all of 2015. Low energy prices and strong job growth are fueling domestic demand, which is offsetting weak foreign demand.