An employee pushes a rack of clothes at a Gap store in San Francisco on Thursday.… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg…)
WASHINGTON -- The service sector, the major driver of the U.S. economy, expanded in February at its fastest pace in a year, according to a leading private barometer released Tuesday.
The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index rose to 56 last month from 55.2 in January.
The increase exceeded expectations of analysts, who had expected the widely watched purchasing manager's index would be little changed.
Last month's reading was the highest since the index registered 56.1 in February 2012. It dipped to a low of 52.7 in June and has averaged 54.5 over the past year.
A figure above 50 indicates the sector is expanding. February was the 43rd straight month of service sector expansion, dating to just after the Great Recession technically ended in mid 2009.
The data follows ISM's report last week that manufacturing sector growth also increased in February, expanding at its fastest pace since mid-2011.
Both indexes came ahead of Friday's February unemployment report. Analysts expect the government to say the economy added 160,000 new jobs, continuing the recent moderate growth.
Respondents to ISM's monthly survey indicated business activity and production, new orders, employment and inventories were expanding.
Thirteen industries reported growth, including healthcare, real estate, construction, finance and insurance.
Six industries reported less business activity in February compared with the previous month, including arts, entertainment and recreation; accommodation and food services; educational services; and retail trade.
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