WASHINGTON -- Factory growth picked up last month after a January plunge, but still appeared to be hampered by bad weather in much of the country, the Institute for Supply Management said Monday.
The group's widely watched purchasing managers index rose to 53.2 in February, up from 51.3 the previous month. A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding.
The January figure was down sharply from 56.5 in December and marked a seven-month low. The index had averaged 56.2 through the final half of last year as the manufacturing sector strengthened.
Last month's increase exceeded analyst expectations of only a slight rise to about 51.9.
New orders and inventories increased in February after tumbling the previous month. But several survey respondents said the severe winter weather was hurting their businesses, as it did in January.
One unnamed petroleum and coal products firm reported “bad weather hampering logistics across the country," the ISM said.
The weather appeared to be a factor in slowing production at factories.
The ISM's production index fell sharply to 48.2 last month, from 54.8, indicating that segment of manufacturing businesses was contracting for the first time in 18 months.
The production figure was the lowest since May 2009.
The employment index did not improve in February, remaining at 52.3. The index was 55.8 in December.