Reports point to improving U.S. economy

Several reports released Wednesday provided further evidence that the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction. Here is a summary:

Service Sector: U.S. service companies grew at a slightly faster pace in November because sales and new orders rose, a good sign for the economy.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its index of non-manufacturing activity rose to 54.7 from 54.2 in October. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The report measures growth in a broad range of businesses from retail and construction companies to health care and financial services firms. The industries covered employ about 90 percent of the workforce.

Productivity: U.S. workers were more productive this summer than initially thought, while costing their companies less.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that productivity grew at an annual rate of 2.9 percent from July through September. That's the fastest pace in two years and higher than the initial estimate of 1.9 percent. Labor costs dropped at a rate of 1.9 percent, more than the 0.1 percent dip initially estimated.

Productivity — the amount of output per hour of work — was revised higher because economic growth was faster in the third quarter than first estimated, while hours worked were unchanged.

The report suggests companies are finding ways to squeeze more out of their existing workers. While that's a good sign for corporate profits, it can be discouraging for people who want a job.

Hiring survey: A private survey shows U.S. businesses added fewer workers in November, mostly because Hurricane Sandy shut down factories, retail stores and other companies.

Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that employers added 118,000 jobs last month, below October's total of 157,000, which was revised lower.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, says the storm cut payrolls by an estimated 86,000 jobs. Excluding the effects of the storm, "the job market turned in a good performance during the month."

Factory orders: Orders to U.S. factories rose modestly in October, helped by a big gain in demand for equipment that reflects business investment plans.

Factory orders edged up 0.8 percent in October, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That compared to September when orders had jumped 4.5 percent.

Orders for core capital goods, a category viewed as a good proxy for business investment plans, increased 2.9 percent in October, the biggest increase in eight months.

Reports point to improving U.S. economy 12/05/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 9:15pm]

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