The services sector improved for the 48th consecutive month but at a slower pace, according to the Institute for Supply Management's December Report on Business released today. 

The Institute's Non-Manufacturing Index registered an overall 53% rating, down from November's 53.9% and well below analyst expectations of 54.8%. An above-50 rating denotes growth, while less than 50 implies contraction.

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index Chart

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index data by YCharts. 

Diving deeper into index components, new orders took a major dip, dropping seven points to 49.4. This is the first time since July 2009 that new orders have shrunk. However, business activity remained relatively stable at 55.2, and employment advanced 3.3 points to 55.8. 

Eight services industries reported growth in December, led by company management and support. Eight others reported contractions for March, with mining claiming the largest dip.