The Markit U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell 2.8% to 55.5 for March, according to a Markit report (link opens PDF) released today.
An above-50 reading denotes positive change from the previous month, putting this month's report in growth territory, albeit at a slower rate. After February notched a reading of 57.1, analysts had expected a 56.8 reading from March's final reading.
This latest reading clocked in at the same level as Markit's "flash" estimate two weeks ago. The "flash" estimate is typically based on approximately 85% to 90% of total PMI survey responses each month and is designed to provide an accurate advance indication of the final PMI data.
Despite the dip from February, this report keeps manufacturing on "solid growth footing," according to Markit. After February's index came in at the second-fastest pace in almost a year, March's numbers are still the second-highest reading since January 2013.
On a component-by-component basis, the all-important new orders index fell 1.5 points to 58.1, while new export orders dipped 0.5 points to 51.1. Output eased off 0.3 points but remains near February's almost three-year high of 57.8.
Markit chief economist Chris Williamson was quoted as saying:
The fall in the composite Manufacturing PMI masks the ongoing resilience of output, new orders and employment growth, all of which continued to rise at historically strong rates in March. That's because the PMI also includes a measure of supplier delivery times, which dragged the PMI down but only because deliveries were quicker as a result of improved weather.
Williamson also noted that falling inventory levels should push companies to increase business investment and hire more workers in the next few months.