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In this Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, photo, recycled plastic chips destined to be made in to thread are shown at the Repreve Bottle Processing Center, part of the Unifi textile company in Reidsville, N.C. On Monday, April 3, 2017, the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, issues its index of manufacturing activity for March. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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US factories expand again in March but at slower pace

In this Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, photo, recycled plastic chips destined to be made in to thread are shown at the Repreve Bottle Processing Center, part of the Unifi textile company in Reidsville, N.C. On Monday, April 3, 2017, the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, issues its index of manufacturing activity for March. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

WASHINGTON (AP) — American factories expanded for the seventh straight month in March but at a slightly slower pace than they did in February.

The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its manufacturing index slipped to 57.2 last month from February’s 57.7, which was the highest in more than two years. Still, anything above 50 signals growth, and the March reading was slightly better than economists expected.

New orders and production grew more slowly last month, but hiring and new export orders grew faster, according to the ISM, a trade group of purchasing managers. The Labor Department reported earlier that factories added 28,000 jobs in February, the most in more than a year.

Seventeen of 18 manufacturing industries grew in March, ISM said, led by makers of electrical equipment and appliances.

American factories have bounced back after being hurt in early 2016 and late 2015 by cutbacks in the energy industry, a reaction to low oil prices and a strong dollar, which makes U.S. products costlier in foreign markets. Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at the financial consulting firm MFR Inc., said the ISM numbers “are indicative of solid overall (economic) growth and a distinct improvement in manufacturing output.”

The Commerce Department reported last week that the U.S. economy grew 2.1 percent during the last three months of 2016, helped by ramped up spending by consumers.

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