April Factory Activity Weakest in 6 Months as Orders Fall

April factory activity economy manufacturing
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

By Leah Schnurr

U.S. manufacturing growth pulled back to its slowest pace in six months in April as new orders and employment cooled, the latest signal the economy has hit a soft spot, a survey showed on Wednesday.

Financial data firm Markit said its final U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index slipped to 52.1 from 54.6 in March. It was the lowest final reading since October.

Still, that was a slight improvement from the preliminary reading of 52. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

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The output index fell to 53.7 from 56.6, while new orders dropped to 51.5 from 55.4. The employment gauge showed expansion but fell to its lowest level since November.

After re-accelerating in the first quarter, recent data suggests overall economic growth cooled heading into the second quarter, a familiar pattern the recovery has seen the past two years.

Wednesday's manufacturing data "suggests that the economy is showing signs of yet another 'spring swoon' as it moves into the second quarter," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

After manufacturers saw their best quarter in two years in the first three months of 2013, the slowdown in orders growth in April suggests that could be short-lived, Williamson said. Further growth in export orders, he said, should help offset weaker domestic demand.