NEW YORK (Reuters) - Factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region accelerated in December, bouncing back from the previous month's storm-related slump as new orders picked up.
The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index rose to 8.1 from minus 10.7 in November, easily topping economists' expectations for minus 3, according to a Reuters poll.
The new orders index climbed to 10.7 from minus 4.6.
Any reading above zero indicates expansion in the region's manufacturing sector. The survey covers factories in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
It is seen as one of the first monthly indicators of the health of U.S. manufacturing leading up to the national report by the Institute for Supply Management.
Activity had fallen off in November due to the impact of the massive storm that hit the U.S. Northeast in late October. Except for one positive reading in October, the index had been in contraction territory since May.
"It is a pretty unambiguously positive number, although it should be said it is not a number that suggests an exceptional pace of manufacturing," said David Sloan, economist at 4Cast Ltd in New York.
The employment components also improved as the gauge of the number of employees rose to 3.6 from minus 6.8 and the average work week index gained to 4.2 from minus 6.2.
Survey respondents felt better about the outlook for the coming months with the gauge of business conditions for the next six months rising to 30.9 from 20.
U.S. stocks showed little reaction to the data as investors were also taking in reports on existing home sales and leading economic indicators.