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Manufacturing grew faster than expected in December (9:29 a.m. 1/4/10)

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — A private trade group said Monday that manufacturing activity last month grew at the fastest pace in more than three years, a sign the pace of recovery is picking up.

According to the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, its manufacturing index read 55.9 in December after 53.6 in November. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a reading of 54.3.

New orders, a signal of future production, jumped to 65.5 from 60.3 in November.

The index, which also includes production, employment, inventories and prices, first showed growth in August after 18 months of contraction.

It has now shown growth for five straight months. December’s reading is the highest since April 2006.

The manufacturing index’s peak in the last decade was 61.4 in May 2004. It bottomed at 32.9 in the midst of the recession in December 2008.

Measures of manufacturing in the U.K., the eurozone and China also grew in December.

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