The services sector improved in December for the 36th consecutive month, according to the Institute for Supply Management's Report on Business released today.

The Institute's Non-Manufacturing Index clocked in at 56.1%, representing a slightly faster rate increase and a 1.4 percentage point hike above November's number.

The report's 50%+ reading indicates that the services sector is expanding. The newest numbers beat analysts' expectations of a slight drop from November to 54.5%. 

According to the report, 13 industries grew and five contracted for December. Information, construction, and retail trade sectors reported the largest gains, while contracting sectors included accommodation and food services and professional, scientific and technical services.

In quotes from various sectors, the report highlights the effect of lower gasoline prices, holiday season fluctuations, and weather as reasons for both expansions and contractions across the services sector. 

linkThe ISM also reported that its Employment Index increased by 6 percentage points to 56.3%, indicating growth in employment for the fifth consecutive month at a significantly faster rate. The Department of Labor reported today that unemployment in the country remained at 7.8% for December.