US manufacturing activity picks up in February

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US manufacturing activity picked up in February after slowing in January amid severe winter weather, the Institute for Supply Management said on Monday.

The ISM's purchasing managers index rose to 53.2 in February, rebounding from a sharp fall in January to 51.3, a level not far above the 50 reading between expansion and contraction.

The gain was stronger than analysts' consensus estimate of a 51.6 reading.

The new orders component surged to 54.5 in February from January's level of 51.2 as respondents to the ISM survey of purchasing managers reported strong demand and an improved outlook for growth.

But production tumbled to 48.2 from 54.8, and employment was unchanged at 52.3.

"As in January, several comments from the panel mention adverse weather conditions as a factor impacting their businesses in February," said Bradley Holcomb, head of the ISM manufacturing survey committee.

"Other comments reflect optimism in terms of demand and growth in the near term." Of the 18 manufacturing industries surveyed, 14 reported growth and three were seeing contraction.

Chris Low of FTN Financial cautioned that weather continued to play the wild card in trying to weigh economic indicators.

"Like the employment data, there is no way to tease out whether any of the recent weakness in the ISM is fundamental. We will likely have to wait for spring to know what is really going on in the manufacturing sector," Low said.