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Factory growth hits 3-month low in Buffalo Niagara region

Buffalo Niagara manufacturers kept growing during January – but just barely.

With production still rising and commodity prices falling, manufacturers in the region said business improved for the third straight month in January, according to a survey of purchasing managers by the Institute of Supply Management – Buffalo.

But the purchasing managers said the pace of that growth was the lowest since October as local manufacturers said they booked fewer new orders and trimmed their workforces last month.

“So even with the positive overall value, it wasn’t all positive this month,” said Jay K. Walker, the Niagara University economist who compiles the monthly report.

The group’s business activity index slipped to 51 last month, from 51.8 in December, barely above the 50 mark that is the tipping point between an expanding economy and a declining one.

Walker noted that the local index still shows business expanding among manufacturers, which is in contrast to the six straight months of decline found by a regional survey of factory activity, the Empire Manufacturing Survey, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

“We have again outperformed broader indices, although many of the local indices show evidence of weakness or are mixed,” he said.

The bright spot in the local survey was the production by the region’s factories, which expanded for the third straight month, although the pace of that expansion slowed sharply in January. Commodity prices fell for the fourth straight month as energy prices continued to decline.

Those positives were offset by the second straight monthly decline in the flow of new orders and the first drop in factory employment since August. Inventories shrank for the sixth straight month.