Pace of U.S. factory activity shows October improvement

U.S. factories were busier in October. Orders, productivity and hiring all grew faster than they did in September, according to a private survey.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, reported Monday that its manufacturing index rose to 59 last month, from 56.6 in September. Any reading above 50 signals expansion. The increase reverses a drop in September.

Sixteen of 18 manufacturing industries grew last month. Only petroleum and coal reported a decrease in activity. Manufacturing exports grew last month but at a slower pace than they did in September.

"Today's report suggests that the manufacturing sector is expanding and will likely continue at a healthy pace in the coming quarter," Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research note.

Overall, the U.S. economy has shown signs of strength. The Commerce Department reported last week that the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent from July through September.

The third-quarter growth was driven by gains in business investment, exports and increased military spending.

Employers are adding nearly 227,000 jobs a month this year — on pace to make 2014 the best year for job creation since 1999. The unemployment rate tumbled to a six-year low of 5.9 percent in September from 7.2 percent a year earlier. The unemployment rate would be twice is high, however, if it included those who have given up job searches and work part time because they can’t find full-time positions.

In a sign of increased confidence in the economy, the Federal Reserve this month ended a bond-buying program intended to push long-term interest rates lower and encourage more spending and borrowing. The Fed still plans to keep short-term rates near zero — where they've been since 2008 — for a "considerable time."

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