- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Manufacturing activity remained strong in September and construction spending surged to a record high in August, according to a pair of reports issued yesterday that provided an optimistic look at the sturdiness of the economy.

The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index registered 58.5 in September, down from 59 in the previous month but slightly higher than the 58.3 reading forecast by analysts.

An ISM reading of 50 or above means the manufacturing sector is expanding, while a figure below 50 represents a contraction. The index has been above 50 since June of last year.

“The manufacturing sector continued to grow during September, but at a slightly slower rate,” said Norbert J. Ore, chairman of ISM’s manufacturing survey committee. “Both new orders and production remain strong, and employment growth has accelerated.”

Also yesterday, the Commerce Department reported that construction spending jumped in August to the highest level ever. The 0.8 percent increase to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.02 trillion reflects continued strength in the housing market.

The increase was double what economists had been forecasting, and July’s figure was revised to reflect an even stronger month than previously estimated.

The generally upbeat manufacturing and construction reports contrasted somewhat with the University of Michigan’s index of consumer confidence for September, also released yesterday. That reading declined to 94.2 last month from 95.9 in August, lower than had been expected by economists.

Automakers also were reporting car and truck sales for September. Ford Motor Co. said its sales fell nearly 7 percent as car sales dragged down overall results. Nissan North American Inc., however, said total U.S. sales of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles grew 11 percent in September.

Analysts were generally upbeat in their appraisals of the economy, downplaying concerns about consumer attitudes.

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