Manufacturing grew at a faster pace in September than in August, though the pace of growth remains weak.
The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its manufacturing index rose to 51.6, up from 50.6 in August. A reading above 50 indicates expansion. The increase follows two months of declines.
Measures of production and exports grew, while a gauge of new orders was unchanged. Factories also added workers, the report said. The ISM is a trade group of purchasing executives.
The manufacturing sector has been a key driver of the economy's growth since the recession officially ended in June 2009. The index topped 60 for four straight months earlier this year. It rose above 50 a month after the recession ended and has topped that level ever since.
But manufacturing accounts for only about 11 percent of the economy and can do only so much to support the recovery. And manufacturing has slowed in the past several months as consumer spending has weakened in response to high unemployment and stagnant wages. High gas and food prices are also forcing shoppers to cut back in other areas.
Respondents to the survey expressed "concern over the sluggish economy, political and policy uncertainty in Washington, and forecasts of ongoing high unemployment," said Bradley Holcomb, chair of the ISM's survey committee.
The report follows other indicators that show the economy is sputtering though still growing. Companies ordered more machinery, computers and other equipment in August, a government report last week showed.
Twelve of the 18 manufacturing industries tracked by the ISM reported growth in September. They include food and beverages; clothing; autos and other transportation equipment; and chemicals. Furniture, paper products, and electrical equipment were among those that contracted.
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