US service sector growth rate near 8-year high in August

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The pace of growth in the US services sector accelerated last month to its fastest pace in almost eight years, an industry report showed on Thursday.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its services index rose to 58.6, its highest since December 2005, from 56 in July. The reading handily topped economists' consensus expectations for 55 and beat the high end of forecasts. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector.

The report likely added to views that US economic growth is strengthening in the second half of the year, after Tuesday's ISM manufacturing report showed the sector growing at its fastest pace in 26 months.

The new orders and business activity components hit their highest level since February 2011. New orders rose to 60.5 from 57.7 and business activity hit 62.2 after scoring 60.4 in July.

The key employment index hit its highest in six months, up to 57 from 53.2.