WASHINGTON -- U.S. manufacturing activity held steady at firmer levels in June and automobile sales were on track to beat expectations, pointing to momentum in the economy after a rough winter.
The Institute for Supply Management said Tuesday its index of national factory activity was at 55.3, little changed from May's 55.4 reading. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
The forward-looking new orders subindex hit a six-month high, but factory employment was unchanged.
"Manufacturing has gathered some momentum in the second half of the year. That's an important pillar for the economy along with housing. The details are better with new orders rising," said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Separately, early sales reports indicated the auto industry overall had a better-than-anticipated showing last month, even though there were two fewer selling days than a year ago.
General Motors (GM) bucked Wall Street's low expectations and negative publicity over a flood of safety recalls, reporting a modest rise in U.S. sales in June.
Chrysler Group and Nissan Motor also reported year-to-year increases Tuesday. They, along with Ford Motor (F), topped analyst expectations.
The reports were the latest to suggest the economy rebounded in the second quarter after a weather-induced slump earlier in the year. However, another report showing construction spending barely rose in May indicated that second-quarter growth could fall short of expectations.
Economic growth contracted at a 2.9 percent annual pace in the first quarter, also weighed down by a slow pace of inventory accumulation by businesses.
Economists last week slashed their second-quarter growth estimates after weak consumer spending in May. Growth forecasts are now running as high as a 3.5 percent pace and as low as a 2.1 percent rate.
Construction spending edged up 0.1 percent to an annual rate of $956.1 billion, the Commerce Department reported. However, April's data was revised up to show a 0.8 percent rise in construction spending, taking some of the sting out of the report.
Economists had expected construction spending to advance 0.5 percent after a previously reported 0.2 percent gain.
Construction spending in May was held back by a 0.3 percent decline in private construction projects, which offset a 1 percent rise in public construction outlays. Private construction accounts for the largest portion of construction spending.
Private residential construction tumbled 1.5 percent, reflecting weak housing starts.
A run-up in mortgage rates has stymied the housing market recovery. Investment in home building and nonresidential structures such as factories and gas pipelines contracted in the first three months of this year for a second straight quarter.
Spending by the federal government dropped 8.9 percent, the largest fall since December 2010. State and local government projects increased a solid 2 percent.
-Additional reporting by Richard Leong and Ryan Vlastelica in New York.
15 Products You Can Almost Always Get for Free
Factory Activity Steady; Construction Spending Inches Up
If you want to take a drive across the country but haven't got wheels and don't want to rent a car, there are websites like Auto Driveaway that will help you find a car to drive for someone who is moving and doesn't want to drive their own car. For the return trip, either wait for a car to drive back or book a cheap flight home. It's a great way to see the country if you have the time.
Companies want to know more about you so they can market to you. If you're willing to give up some information about yourself -- like your career title or location - you can get a free year's subscription to a variety of magazines. In recent months, we've seen popular titles like W Magazine, Wired, Wine Spectator, Maxim and Lucky, all for free.
It's a given that your friends should buy your drinks on your birthday, but before you get to the bar, keep in mind that plenty of businesses offer free things on your special day as well. The trick is to plan ahead and hit as many of them as you can.
Many restaurants offer free meals for kids if they're accompanied by a paying adult. However, some do so only on certain nights, so it's worth checking MyKidsEatFree.com to find restaurants in your area that offer free kids' meals. This site could also be handy for diners without kids who want to make sure they don't visit on nights when a throng of children is likely to be there.
Did you know that Aug. 3 is Free National Watermelon Day? Almost every day of the year is some type of national food day, and restaurants are always looking for opportunities to run promotions. Check your local restaurants, or do a Google search for your city and the free food you're looking for. While you might not be able to score freebies regularly enough to avoid ever paying for food, you can certain get at least monthly free food, drinks, and the like.
If you're a fan of phones with Google's (GOOG) operating system, then you're in luck; so many new Android smartphones are released these days that the market has become saturated -- and as a result, most models quickly fall to $0 (with new two-year contracts) after a few months. Even trendy models with lots of media hype eventually follow the same deal path; in fact, based on patterns we've seen thus far, we're predicting that the Samsung Galaxy S5 could become free with a contract as soon as this summer.
We regularly see both Newegg and Fry's Electronics offer free anti-virus software, to the extent that you could get away without ever paying for it. The caveat is that you must buy it and then redeem a rebate to make it free. But paperwork is a small price to pay in the pursuit of a good deal. If you're adverse to rebates, there are also always-free options like Avast.
Getting a full album for free can be difficult, but with the number of music credit freebies we see bundled with Amazon (AMZN) deals, you should be able to amass a stockpile of credits to purchase a number of MP3 downloads that tempt you. Amazon has about 50,000 free songs available for download. Plus, Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, Starbucks (SBUX) and other vendors tend to distribute free songs on a weekly basis. Free music downloads can be found elsewhere, too.
Besides going to the library -- which is an obvious first place to start for free books -- there are lots of ways to get free digital books. Project Gutenberg has more than 39,000 free eBooks, and there is a Free Books app for the iPad. Free e-books are listed on DealNews. If you have shelves full of physical books that you'd like to swap out, sites such as PaperBack Swap and Bookmooch allow you to mail your books to members who request them, and you can request books from others. The more books you give, the more you can receive. These sites are free to join, but the sender does pay postage.
While cutting the cable cord entirely isn't as easy as you might think, the ways to consume movies and TV without paying a cent include free streaming sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime. Keep an eye out for free movie screenings; large studios will frequently try to give a film early buzz by showing it for free to audiences. Additionally, Fandango frequently offers buy one, get one ticket deals for certain cardholders; and now that it's summertime, many parks, libraries and towns have movie nights.
While they might not always come in the exact dimensions you'd like, you can regularly find some sort of freebie photo print deal from the likes of Snapfish, Walgreen (WAG) and CVS (CVS). Shutterfly also offers regular freebies, but shipping will tack on a small fee.
Many health and beauty companies offer free samples, and like free magazines, you'll have to offer up some personal information to get the goods. Keep an eye out for free samples from Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT). Individual brands also offer free samples of new cosmetics they're trying to promote, but if you want to skip the customary six to eight weeks for delivery, you can instead scout out free samples at drugstore counters and Sephora.
Free apps are everywhere. And at some point even the typically expensive titles see a temporary price drop. If you're particular, set up an email alert and wait for the app of your choosing to fall in price.
While you can't always wait around for free shipping when a special promotion is on the table, everyday orders that aren't time-sensitive can benefit from waiting for a shipping discount. We frequently see a variety of popular vendors offer some sort of shipping deals, which makes it hard to justify spending your cash on the service for an average order.
As a society, we often dispose of perfectly good items in the pursuit of finding something newer or better, so before you make any large purchases, because sure to check Craigslist and Freecycle for free goods. Often, people just don't want to make the effort to move or properly trash them, so you can sometimes get something substantial -- like a wardrobe or shelving unit -- without paying. It goes without saying though that you should make sure any and all items are in working order and in good shape. You don't want to be hauling away another person's junk, even if it is free.