The Institute for Supply Management reported Thursday that the U.S. manufacturing activity expanded for the eighth consecutive month in March. The rate of growth was the fastest since July 2004, with new orders and production indexes each rising above readings of 60, closing the first quarter with significant momentum, the ISM said.

ISM’s monthly index rose to a 59.6 reading from 56.5 in February. January’s reading had been the highest since August 2004.

Figures of more than 50 indicate expansion, while below that show contraction. The ISM factory index measures nanufacturing components of the economy.

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