The manufacturing sector expanded for the first time in 7 months in March

Markit Economics

The US manufacturing sector improved just a bit in March, according to two key national readings.

The Institute of Supply Management’s purchasing manager’s index showed expansion for the first time since last August, at 51.8.

It had been expected at 51, above the threshold of 50.

New orders and production boosted the sector during the month.

But employment was a drag, and the index that gauges jobs growth fell to 48.1% in March from 48.5% in February.

Friday’s jobs report showed that manufacturing jobs fell 29,000 in March, recording the worst month in six years.

Markit Economics’ final purchasing manager’s index (PMI) for the month came in at 51.5, as expected, and reflecting slow improvement.

Markit senior economist Tim Moore said in the release:

March’s survey highlights sustained weakness across the US manufacturing sector, meaning that overall growth through the first quarter slowed to its lowest since late-2012. Subdued client spending patterns within the energy sector, ongoing pressure from the strong dollar, and general uncertainty about the business outlook were cited as factors weighing on new order flows in March.

Regional surveys from Richmond, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago showed sharp improvements for the month.

Economists had expected the data to show some improvement in the sector, which has been hurt by the downturn in the energy sector and the strong US dollar.

“While it is still too early to assess whether the manufacturing recovery is finally back on track, the upswing in the forward-looking indicators suggests that some further upside momentum lies ahead,” wrote TD Securities’ Millan Mulraine in a note.