The preliminary results of Markit's monthly U.S. manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index survey point to a larger-than-expected slowdown in the pace of expansion in manufacturing output this month.

The report's headline gauge fell to 55.5 from the February survey's 57.1 reading. The consensus forecast of market economists was that the index would fall, but only to 56.5.

Table 1 shows a complete breakdown of the PMI's sub-component indices. The output, new orders, new export orders, and employment components all moderated a bit, while the backlogs of work and quantity of purchases components registered larger declines.

"The manufacturing PMI adds to evidence that the sector has shrugged off the weather-related weakness seen earlier the year, with strong demand encouraging firms to expand and hire new staff at a robust pace," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, in the release.

"The buoyant growth in March rounds off the best quarter for three years, indicating that the sector should provide a robust contribution to GDP in the first quarter. Growth was not as strong as February, but that’s in many respects only to be expected after last month’s numbers had been boosted by the rebound from January’s severe weather. The fact that the output and new orders indices remained so strong in March is very encouraging news that the sector has come through the weather-related soft patch and continues to play an increasingly important role in the economic upturn."

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