updated 5/2/2005 2:57:02 PM ET 2005-05-02T18:57:02

The manufacturing sector expanded in April for the 23rd consecutive month, but at a slower pace than in March.

Major Market Indices

The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its index measuring manufacturing activity registered 53.3 in April, down from March’s 55.2 reading. The performance was a bit weaker than the 55.0 analysts had expected, putting the index at its lowest level since July 2003.

A reading of 50 or above in the index means the manufacturing sector is expanding, while a figure below 50 represents a contraction.

The manufacturing data from ISM is watched closely by economists and investors because it one of the first readings of the nation’s economic activity for any given month.

Norbert J. Ore, head of the group’s survey committee, framed the slowdown in the sector’s growth as a good thing.

“The trend is definitely toward a slower pace of growth, and that should relieve some of the pricing pressure that the sector has experienced during 2004 and year to date in 2005,” Ore said in a statement accompanying the report.

Also Monday, the Commerce Department said construction spending rose 0.5 percent to a record level in March, as strong building activity at offices and shopping malls helped offset a slowdown in housing construction.

The increase pushed total construction activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.05 trillion, an all-time high, the agency said.

In morning trading, the Dow Jones industrials climbed 52.76 to 10,245.27, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 8.20 to 1,929.85.

The ISM’s new orders index fell to 53.7 in April from 57.1 in March, while manufacturers’ inventories — a measure of anticipated order demand — declined to 47.9 in April from 54.1 in March.

The index’s price gauge declined to 71.0 in April from 73 in March.

The employment reading decreased in April to 52.3 from 53.3 in March.

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