Key reading of the manufacturing sector falls to lowest level in more than 2 years

  • ISM's manufacturing index fell to 54.1 in December, its lowest level since November 2016.
  • "The manufacturing community continues to expand, but at much lower levels and at a sharp decline from November," says Timothy Fiore, chair of the Institute for Supply Management.
A worker handles a heat-treated component at the New Holland Ltd. Haytools assembly plant in New Holland, Pennsylvania.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A worker handles a heat-treated component at the New Holland Ltd. Haytools assembly plant in New Holland, Pennsylvania.

Activity in the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded at a much slower pace than expected last month, according to the Institute for Supply Management.

The ISM manufacturing index fell to 54.1 in December, its lowest level since November 2016. Economists polled by Refinitiv expected the index to slip to 57.9 in December, down from 59.3 in November.

"Comments from the panel reflect continued expanding business strength, but at much lower levels," said Timothy Fiore, chair of the Institute for Supply Management, in statement. "Demand softened, with the New Orders Index retreating to recent low levels, the Customers' Inventories Index remaining too low — a positive heading into the first quarter of 2019 — and the Backlog of Orders declining to a zero-expansion level."

"The manufacturing community continues to expand, but at much lower levels and at a sharp decline from November," Fiore said. New orders fell to 51.1 in December from 62.1 in November.

The data, which were released Thursday morning, pushed U.S. stocks to session lows as they fueled fears that the global economy may be slowing down. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded about 500 points lower following the data release.

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