Service sector still falling, but not as fast

Associated Press / May 6, 2009
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WASHINGTON - A private gauge of the service sector fell for the seventh straight month in April, but at a slower pace. It was the latest sign the economic downturn may be moderating.

The Institute for Supply Management's index came in at 43.7, versus 40.8 in March. A reading below 50 indicates the sector is contracting. Still, it was higher than expected.

The index is based on a survey of 18 industries and covers such indicators as orders, employment, and inventories. Orders surged last month, to 47 from 38.8 in March.

"The services sector is beginning to show signs that the worst may be behind it," said Joel Naroff, of Naroff Economic Advisors.

About three-quarters of Americans work in service industries such as hotels, retail, education, and healthcare. The index showed that seven industries reported growth, while 11 contracted. The employment category also showed a gain, to 37 from 32.3.

Economists say the US unemployment report, due Friday, will show 620,000 jobs lost in April, slightly below March's tally of 663,000. They expect a jobless rate of 8.9 percent for April.