NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Manufacturing continued to expand in March, according to a closely watched reading that showed the sector grew for the 32nd month in a row.
The Institute of Supply Management's monthly index rose to 53.4 in March, from a 52.4 reading in February. Any reading above 50 indicates growth in the sector.
A survey of executives in the sector showed improvement in their hiring outlook, their production plans and the backlog of orders their factories are working to fill.
The reading was roughly in line with the forecast of 53 by economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
The survey is a key economic indicator, partly because it is the first reading on economic activity in March, and partly because manufacturing has been an area of strength helping to lead the overall economic recovery.
"Of the 18 industries included in the survey, 15 are experiencing overall growth," said Bradley Holcomb, chair of the ISM's manufacturing survey committee. "Comments from the panel remain positive, with several respondents citing increased sales and demand for the next few months
The survey of manufacturing executives found slightly fewer reporting growth in hiring plans, new orders or production. But the survey also found bigger declines in those planning for staff cuts, a drop in orders or a slowdown in production. Additionally, those expecting gains in those key readings outpaced those expecting declines by at least a two-to-one margins.
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