WASHINGTON — U.S. factories grew last month at the fastest pace since June, helped by a jump in new orders and production.
The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Thursday that its manufacturing index rose to 52.7 in November, up from 50.8 in October. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.
Manufacturing has grown for 28 straight months, according to the index. Factories were among the first businesses to start growing after the recession officially ended in June 2009.
Separately, the Labor Department said the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose above 400,000 for the first time in four weeks. The figures suggest the hiring market is recovering at a slow and uneven pace.
And a third report showed that U.S. builders spent more in October on new homes, offices and shopping centers. Construction spending rose for a third straight month, the Commerce Department said. Despite the gains, overall construction spending remained depressed.
The reports offered a mixed picture for the economy one day before the government reports on job growth in November. Economists project that employers added a net 125,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate stayed at 9 percent for the second straight month.
Factories added workers last month, but at a slower pace than the previous month.
Higher auto sales helping
U.S. factories are benefiting from higher auto sales. That has boosted output by automakers and companies that supply parts and raw materials, such as steel. Still, manufacturers could face strains overseas in key export markets. Europe is struggling with its financial crisis and China’s growth has slowed.
The projected job growth in November would be an improvement from the previous month, when the economy added just 80,000 jobs. Still, 125,000 new jobs are barely enough to keep pace with population growth.
Some economists are more optimistic after payroll provider ADP said Wednesday that companies added 206,000 workers last month, the most this year. That survey doesn’t include government agencies, which have been cutting jobs.
Several recent economic indicators suggest the economy is improving modestly. Retailers reported a strong start to holiday sales over the Thanksgiving weekend, consumer confidence surged in November to the highest level since July, and Americans’ pay rose in October by the most in seven months.
Those reports have caused many economists to forecast a pickup in growth in the final three months of the year, to about a 3 percent annual rate. That would be an improvement from growth of 2 percent in the July-September period.