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The growth spurt by local manufacturers stabilized in October after cooling considerably during the previous two months, a survey of local purchasing managers found Wednesday.

While the local index of manufacturing activity fell for the third straight month from the record high it hit during July, the decline was small and continued to indicate that business is improving at the region's factories.

Even so, the index also indicates that the expansion has slowed to a pace not seen since last November after hovering around some of the strongest growth rates in the last seven years for much of this year.

"Locally, manufacturing is leveling off," said William Ellis, the chairman of the National Association of Purchasing Management -- Buffalo's business survey committee. "Even with this drop in the index, it is still indicating that business is expanding."

Even as the late summer decline stretches into fall, the index still shows that the growth streak for the region's factory sector remained in place for a 16th consecutive month -- the longest streak of consecutive improvement in at least six years.

The group's index of local business activity -- one of the earliest indicators of the strength of the region's manufacturers -- slipped to 58.2 in October from 58.4 in September, down nearly 19 points from the record high of 77.1 it hit in July. An index reading of more than 50 indicates growth.

Both production and the flow of new orders to factories cooled for a third straight month during October, although they still continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace, the survey found.

The pace of the increase in production at the region's factories slowed last month, with the group's production index slipping to 56.6 in October from 60.9 in September. A third of the managers surveyed said their firms increased production last month, down from 39 percent in September, while the number of managers reporting lower output grew to 22 percent from 17 percent in September.

The flow of new orders slowed for just the fourth time in the last 11 months, with the group's new order index sliding to 52.8 from 56.5, as a third of the managers said order flow slowed last month, up from 26 percent in September.

The outlook for factory jobs also remained upbeat, although the group's employment index dropped for the fourth time in the last five months to 55.6 from 56.5 in September as 22 percent of the managers said their firms cut jobs last month, up from 17 percent in September, while a third added jobs, up from 30 percent in September.

Inventory levels grew as more firms built up their stockpiles. Commodity prices also continued to rise at an accelerated pace, which Ellis blamed on higher steel and energy costs.


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