updated 4/1/2009 10:16:34 AM ET 2009-04-01T14:16:34

A trade group’s measure of the health of the manufacturing sector contracted for the 14th straight month in March, but at a slower pace than expected.

The Tempe, Ariz.-based Institute for Supply Management says its manufacturing index rose to 36.3 percent last month from 35.8 percent in February. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected the index to rise to 36.

A reading below 50 signals contraction. The index hit a 28-year low of 32.9 in December.

The report says declines in new orders and employment persisted, but moderated a bit. Still, none of the 18 manufacturing industries grew in March.

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