WASHINGTON — U.S. factories were slightly less busy in November, as production and hiring slowed, though the level of activity remained strong.
The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Monday that its manufacturing index slipped to 58.7 last month from 59 in October. Any reading above 50 signals expansion. October’s figure matched a three-year high reached in August.
Manufacturing has been a key driver of growth this year, as Americans have ramped up their purchases of autos and electronics.
A measure of new orders rose and order backlogs jumped, both signs that output will likely remain strong in the coming months. A gauge of hiring dipped, but still pointed to solid job gains among manufacturing firms.
Overall, recent manufacturing reports have been mixed. Businesses ordered fewer big-ticket manufactured goods in October, and orders in a key category reflecting business investment plans fell for the second straight month.
That’s raised concerns that economic growth could slow in the final three months of this year. The economy expanded at a 4.25 percent annual rate in the April-June and July-September quarters. That was the best six months of growth for the U.S. economy since 2003.
But there have been recent signs that growth is slowing. Consumer spending rose only modestly in October. Many economists now forecast growth will slide to a 2.5 percent rate in the current October-December quarter.
Hiring has been healthy this year, helping propel the economy. Employers had added an average of 229,000 jobs a month this year, up from 194,000 in 2013. That has helped lower the unemployment rate to 5.8 percent, a six-year low, down from 7.2 percent 12 months ago.
But the additional jobs have yet to spur meaningful wage growth.
BY CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer