America’s manufacturing sector continues to grow, with new figures from the Institute for Supply Management showing a third consecutive month of expansion.

The ISM’s index of manufacturing business conditions stood at 53.9 in January, higher than the 50.0 threshold between expansion and contraction and above analysts’ forecasts of 53.7. It was, however, down on December’s 55.2, signalling a slight slowdown in growth.

Manufacturing represents around one-fifth of the US economy. According to the survey’s head Norbert Ore, January’s figures offer “optimism for an improving economy in the first quarter.”

Of the index’s components, new orders remained strong with a reading of 59.7 (albeit down from 62.9 the month before), production slowed only marginally from 56.6 to 56.3, and prices rose from 56.9 to 57.5.

But employment remained weak, dropping from 48.2 to 47.6. This part of the index has been below 50.0 (meaning the workforce has been shrinking) for over two years.

• Separately, there was further good news for the manufacturing sector on Tuesday, with new Commerce Department figures showing a 0.4% rise in factory orders in December compared with the previous month.

The increase, which followed a 0.8% decline in November, was fuelled by strong demand for computers and household appliances, which more than made up for sliding vehicle orders.

For the whole of 2002, factory orders fell 0.8%, though this is a considerable improvement on the 7.4% slump in 2001.

Data sourced from: USA Today; additional content by WARC staff