The long-suffering US manufacturing sector finished 2003 with a bang, according to latest figures from the Institute for Supply Management.

Helped by major gains in new orders and production, the ISM's purchasing managers index of manufacturing activity surged from 62.8 in November to 66.2 last month -- the biggest rise in twenty years and well above economists' forecasts of 61.0. Any figure above 50.0 signals expansion.

The component measuring new orders jumped from 73.7 to 77.6, the highest reading since July 1950; the production measure surged from 68.3 to 73.0. There was also a rise in the employment index, which stood at 55.5, up from November's 51.0.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff