updated 3/3/2006 12:39:33 PM ET 2006-03-03T17:39:33

The nation’s service economy expanded at a faster pace in February than in the previous month and more rapidly than analysts had expected, a private research group said Friday.

Major Market Indices

The Institute for Supply Management said its non-manufacturing index rose to 60.1 in February from January’s 56.8. Wall Street economists had forecast a reading of 59. The ISM index is based on a survey of business executives.

A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding; below 50 indicates activity is contracting.

Businesses reporting growth in February included mining, insurance, business services and construction.

The ISM said its new-orders index rose to 56.2 from 56.0 percent and its employment index rose to 58.2 from 51.1. Its prices index, meanwhile, fell to 64.8 from 67.2.

The ISM found that respondents to its survey “are mostly positive concerning current business conditions,” Ralph Kauffman, who oversees the services report said in a statement. “Price increases are still a topic of concern for a number of members.”

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