"American manufacturers boosted activity for the 10th straight month in March and factory jobs growth accelerated, cementing a key pillar in the recovery, a survey showed yesterday. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) purchasing managers' index, based on a survey of supply executives, rose 1.1 points from February to 62.5 points in March. It was the 10th month in a row above 50 points, indicating expansion in manufacturing activity. 'It looks like the factory sector is really ramping up and is now in the midst of a strong, broad-based recovery,' Wachovia senior economist Mark Vitner said.
The survey showed factory jobs growth picked up, with the employment index rising 0.7 point to 57.0. It was the fifth month of expanding manufacturing employment in the survey following a 37-month contraction. Official figures show manufacturers have shed 2.8 million jobs since January 2001. Private economists on average predict the government figures will show the economy churned out 123,000 jobs in March, after a paltry gain of 21,000 in February. Some economists even tip a gain in manufacturing employment in the month, after a 43-month stretch of net factory layoffs.
Vitner forecast a surge of 225,000 jobs in March, putting in place the last piece of the economic recovery. He tipped US economic growth of nearly five per cent in 2004. A weekly reading of the numbers of recently unemployed was only mildly encouraging. The number of people lodging new claims for unemployment benefits fell 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 342,000 in the week ended March 27, after a gain of 12,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said."