Mar 28, 2012 08:31 AM EDT

Central Atlantic Manufacturing Grows But At Slower Pace

Factory output in the central Atlantic region of the U.S. expanded in March for the fourth straight month, but at a more temperate pace than a month ago, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond reported Tuesday.

The Richmond Fed's general-business index, the broadest measure of manufacturing in the region, fell to seven from 20 in February. Anything above zero indicates expanding activity.

The Richmond Fed surveys cover businesses in Washington, D.C., Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and most of West Virginia. 

Among the index's components, shipments lost 23 points to two, new orders dropped 10 points to finish at 11, and the jobs index moved down seven points to end at six.

Other indicators also suggested somewhat slower activity.

The capacity utilization indicator -- a measure of how much a factory's productive capacity is being used -- retreated six points to finish at six, while the backlogs index held steady at four. Additionally, the finished goods inventories index subtracted eight points to four, while the raw materials inventory index added three points to end at 11.

Hiring activity was mixed at the region's plants in March. The employment index declined seven points to six and the average workweek indicator fell eight points to two, while wage growth gained four points to end at 11.

Looking out over the next six months, district manufacturers remained generally confident about their business prospects, though at a modest level: The index of expected shipments inched down four points to 26, while expected orders picked up one point to finish at 32.

"District manufacturers' intentions to expand hiring were slightly less optimistic in March," Judy Cox, senior economic analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in a statement.

The expected manufacturing employment index declined 22 points to 10, while the average workweek indicator was virtually unchanged at nine. In addition, the index of expected wages fell two points to 24.


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