The Markit Flash U.S. Services Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell 7.1%, to 52.7, for February, according to a Markit report (link opens as PDF) released today.

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. An above-50 reading denotes general growth, while below 50 signals contraction.

According to Markit, much of this month's dip came from cold weather, while future indicators point to sunny sales ahead. The new business component shaved off just 0.2 points to stay strong at 56.2, while outstanding business headed into growth territory, up 2.7 point,s to 52.0. Employment dipped 2.1 points, but is still expanding at 54.1.

"The unusually severe winter weather undoubtedly looks to have taken its toll on the economy in the first quarter," said Markit Chief Economist Chris Williamson in a statement today. "Over the first two months of the year, the manufacturing and services PMI surveys are signaling an annualized growth rate of just 1.6%, which represents a halving of growth compared to the 3.2% pace seen in the fourth quarter."

Looking ahead, Williamson noted that more than 50% of firms surveyed expect business to grow this year, with just 3% predicting a decline.