NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - U.S. manufacturing activity accelerated a bit in January to a fresh 20-year high, the nation's purchasing managers said Monday, though the report missed Wall Street forecasts slightly.
The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of manufacturing activity rose to 63.6 last month from a revised 63.4 in December. Economists, on average, expected an ISM index of 64, according to Briefing.com.
A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing. January's index was the highest since 69.9 in December 1983.
Separately, the Commerce Department said U.S. construction activity hit a new record high in December, but that report also missed Wall Street expectations.
U.S. stock prices fell after the reports, while Treasury bond prices were mostly lower.
The manufacturing sector has long been among the weakest aspects of the total U.S. economy. Of the 2.3-million non-farm payroll jobs that have disappeared since February 2001, most have been factory jobs, and many of those jobs are never coming back.
But various national and regional surveys have shown a strong rebound in manufacturing activity in recent months, driven in part by a surge in demand in the second half of 2003.
Hard data from the Commerce Department and the Federal Reserve have been spottier, but many economists hope surveys such as the ISM are pointing to increased business confidence, spending and hiring in the future.
The ISM's employment index dipped to 52.9 from 53.5 in December, marking the third straight month above 50, following 37 months below that mark.
ISM's new orders index dipped to 71.1 from 73.1 in December. The group's export orders index dipped to 57.5 from 60.
ISM's price index surged to 75.5 from 66 in December. The production index rose to 71.1 from 69.2 in December.