updated 5/3/2004 11:44:50 AM ET 2004-05-03T15:44:50

The nation's manufacturing sector grew at a slightly slower pace in April, in part because of escalating costs for materials, an industry group reported Monday.

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The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index registered 62.4 in April, compared with a reading of 62.5 in March. The new reading was below the expectations of analysts, who had forecast a reading of 62.7.

An index reading above 50 indicates expansion, while one below 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is contracting. The ISM said that this is the 11th consecutive month that the index has indicated the economy is expanding.

The institute said that the April figure still means the economy is growing, but companies responding to its survey said that higher prices of certain commodities, such as aluminum and steel, were causing some difficulties. The ISM's prices index came in at 88 percent, 2 percentage points higher than in March. It was the 26th consecutive month the index has increased.

"The list of metals up in price is quite extensive — almost every category of product has seen price movement," said Norbert J. Ore, chairman of the institute's manufacturing business survey.

Ore also noted, though, that "many respondents indicate that order backlogs are growing for the first time in several years."

Indeed, all 17 industries surveyed reported growth.

The institute's indexes tracking production and employment also moved higher, while its gauges for new orders, supplier deliveries and inventories stalled or pulled back.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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