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Philly Fed factory activity index jumps in March

NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - Factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region expanded far more than expected in March, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index rose to 9.0 in March from -6.3 in February, topping economists' expectations for 3.8, according to a Reuters poll.

Any reading above zero indicates expansion in the region's manufacturing. The survey covers factories in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

The new orders index rose to 5.7 from -5.2. The employment component grew at a slower clip, however, coming in at 1.7, the lowest since June, versus 4.8 last month.

Survey respondents' view on business conditions six months ahead fell to 35.4 from 40.2.

The Philly Fed business index is seen as one of the first monthly indicators of the health of U.S. manufacturing leading up to the national report by the Institute for Supply Management.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)