Economists aren't worried that this necessarily sends ominous signals for broader growth. Manufacturing comprises 12.1 percent of gross domestic product and has been on the decline for the past 10 years in relative terms.
The Empire "figures suggest that the manufacturing sector is deep in recession, but the actual output figures have been slightly more upbeat — manufacturing output has been trending broadly sideways since the start of this year, but has not suffered any sustained contraction," Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.
That's a rosy view for a sector showing some glaring weaknesses in a geographical region that was once the epicenter of U.S. manufacturing activity.
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Internal figures show that the headline number continues to indicate broad contraction as well as substantial weakness in key areas.
The key employment indicator was still well in contraction territory at -7.3, while the average workweek hit its lowest level since mid-2011.
The report comes as the market watches closely for clues about the Federal Reserve's intentions. The U.S. central bank is expected to increase rates for the first time in more than nine years at the December Federal Open Market Committee meeting.
However, it faces obstacles from various weak data points. Besides manufacturing, wage pressures and inflation overall remain muted, while corporate earnings are likely to show negative growth for the third straight quarter, according to FactSet. That would be the first time since 2009. Top-line revenue is expected to contract for the fourth straight quarter as well.
Traders continued Monday to believe in a rate hike, however with somewhat less conviction amid fallout from the terrorist attacks Friday in Paris. The market was pricing in a 64 percent chance of a December move, down from 70 percent Friday.