updated 1/4/2007 10:30:36 AM ET 2007-01-04T15:30:36

The service sector of the U.S. economy grew at a slower rate in December than in the previous month, a trade group said Thursday.

Major Market Indices

The Tempe, Ariz.-based Institute for Supply Management said that its index of business activity in the service sector was 57.1 in December versus from 58.9 in November. Analysts were looking for a reading of 57.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below 50 signals contraction. December marked the 45th consecutive month of expansion in non-manufacturing industries.

The services industries covered by the ISM report represent approximately 80 percent of the nation’s economic activity, and economists are looking for the sector to act as the main driver of growth in 2007, as the manufacturing sector struggles with weakness in the automotive and housing industries.

The ISM is a trade association representing approximately 40,000 supply management professionals.

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