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U.S. Manufacturing Hits New High Since May 2004

Tue, 03/01/2011 - 3:38am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Manufacturers likely increased production at a slightly faster pace in February than in January, when output rose at the quickest pace since May 2004.

Economists forecast that the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index ticked up to 60.9 in February from 60.8 the previous month. The report is scheduled to be released at 10 a.m. EST Tuesday.

Any reading above 50 indicates growth. February is expected to be the 19th straight month of growth.

Manufacturing was clobbered during the recession as consumers cut back sharply on purchases of cars, appliances and electronics. The ISM's index bottomed out at 33.3 in December 2008, its lowest point in nearly 30 years.

But factories have rebounded at a healthy clip since the recession ended in June 2009. Manufacturing has been one of the economy's hotspots for the past 18 months. Americans have resumed spending on big-ticket items and businesses are investing in more industrial machinery and other heavy equipment.

Solid growth overseas, particularly in developing countries such as China, Brazil and India, has also helped by boosting exports for U.S. manufacturers.

The ISM's index also includes measures of employment and the prices manufacturers are paying for raw materials, which will likely attract close attention from economists.

The survey's employment index jumped to 61.7 in January, a month when manufacturers added 49,000 jobs. The prices index, meanwhile, soared to 81.5, a reflection of soaring costs for oil, food, cotton and other commodities.

Regional manufacturing indexes mostly rose in February, leading some economists to forecast a larger gain at the national level. On Monday, an index compiled by a trade group in Chicago rose to its highest level in nearly 23 years.

The ISM compiles its index by surveying about 300 purchasing executives across the country.

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