An employee pours molten steel into a casting for a church bell at the Verdin… (Ty Wright / Bloomberg )
WASHINGTON — The nation's manufacturing engine lost steam in November, contracting for the first time in three months and falling to its lowest level since 2009, according to a leading private barometer released Monday.
The Institute for Supply Management's purchasing manager's index decreased to 49.5 last month from 51.7 in October. A figure below 50 indicates economic activity is contracting.
The manufacturing sector had expanded modestly in August and September after three months of slight contraction. But the November reading marked the lowest level for the widely watched gauge since July 2009.
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Analysts had expected the sector to continue expanding last month. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had predicted the November reading to be unchanged from October.
Superstorm Sandy could have been a factor in the manufacturing slowdown, said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi in New York.
"The question of whether the manufacturing downturn is real or storm-related will not be settled for a couple of months more," he said. "There is probably some uncertainty lingering from the elections behind us and the fiscal cliff in front of us."
Factory job growth slowed last month as well. ISM's Employment Index was down to 48.4 in November from 52.1 the previous month. It was the lowest level since September 2009.
Orders continued to grow in November, but the pace was down. ISM's New Orders Index was 50.3, down 3.9 points from October.
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