U.S. manufacturing expanded in December

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U.S. manufacturing grew slightly last month and factory hiring increased. The modest gain suggests the economy entered the new year with some momentum.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its index of manufacturing activity rose in December to 50.7. That's up from a reading of 49.5 in November, which was the lowest reading since July 2009, one month after the recession ended.

Readings above 50 indicate growth. The ISM is a trade group of purchasing managers.

A measure of employment increased last month to 52.7. That's up from 48.4 in November, which was the first time the employment gauge fell below 50 in three years. The jump in employment in the ISM survey suggests manufacturers may have stepped up hiring last month.

The Labor Department releases the December jobs report Friday. Still, a gauge of new orders was unchanged and production grew more slowly, the survey found. Manufacturers also cut back on stockpiles, a sign of concern about future demand.

"The trend in manufacturing remains weak," Jim O'Sullivan, an economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note to clients.

The closely watched manufacturing survey was completed before Congress reached a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff."-- AP

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