Chicago economic growth slowed in January, according to a new Chicago Business Barometer report (link opens a PDF) released today by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM).

After clocking in at a revised 60.8 for December, January's index came in at 59.6, essentially equal to analyst expectations of 59.5. This latest report marks the third straight month of declines.

The ISM develops its index from surveys of purchasing and supply chain professionals based in Chicago. An above-50 rating indicates expansion, while below 50 implies a contraction from the previous month. Although the geographic focus is limited to the Chicago area, investors keep tabs on the index as a leading indicator of U.S. economic activity. 

According to the report, this month's dip was due primarily to declines in the employment and supplier deliveries components, with employment shrinking for the first time in nine months. Despite the decreases, production, new orders, and order backlogs all made limited gains for the first time in two months.

According to the chief economist at MNI Indicators (an ISM partner), Philip Uglow, business activity remains at a "relatively high level." Uglow noted that employment's contraction isn't necessarily indicative of current demand conditions, and that most companies don't believe the Fed's quantitative easing tapering decision this week will affect their business.