Growth in non-manufacturing economic activity continued to slow in March, after declining slightly in the prior month.
The Institute of Supply Management's measure of non-manufacturing firms ticked down to 58.8, slightly lower than the 59 expected by a survey of economists polled by Reuters. Non-manufacturing economic activity hit 59.5 in February.
While the index of 17 non-manufacturing industries, such as real estate and food services, has slowed for the last two months, the service sector has still seen continued expansion for eight consecutive years. The sector has expanded for 98 consecutive months, while the overall economy has grown for the 103rd consecutive month.
A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the service sector, and a reading below 50 signals contraction. A reading above 49 percent, over a period of time, generally indicates an expansion of the overall economy.
"The non-manufacturing sector enjoyed another month of strong growth in March," according to the Institute for Supply Management. "The cooling off of the New Orders Index possibly prevented an even stronger reading for the NMI composite index. The majority of respondents remain positive about business conditions."
A gauge of new orders slowed 5.3 points to 59.5 in March. However, the survey's measure of service sector employment increased 1.6 points to 56.6, having declined the month before.
Fifteen of the 17 non-manufacturing industries reported growth, including mining, agriculture, retail trade, finance and insurance, public administration, health care and utilities. The two industries reporting contraction in March included educational services and information.