NEW YORK The New York state manufacturing sector expanded for a second straight month in March, though the pace of growth cooled slightly and a measure of new orders fell, data from the New York Federal Reserve showed on Friday.
The New York Fed's "Empire State" general business conditions index slipped to 9.24 from 10.04 in February, shy of expectations for 10.
Prior to February's gain, the sector had contracted for six straight months through the latter part of 2012 into 2013.
Financial markets barely reacted to Friday's data.
The new orders index fell to 8.18 from 13.31, while shipments dropped to 7.76 from 13.08. The measure of inventories contracted to minus 5.38 from zero.
Employment gauges pointed to a sluggish labor market as the index for the number of employees fell to 3.23 from 8.08. The average employee workweek index rose to zero from minus 4.04, pointing to unchanged conditions this month.
Still, firms continued to show optimism, with the index of business conditions six months ahead rising to its highest level since April 2012 to 36.43 from 33.07.
The survey of manufacturing plants in the state is one of the earliest monthly guideposts to U.S. factory conditions leading up to the national sector report.
The most recent national snapshot from the Institute for Supply Management showed growth picked up to its best pace in over a year and a half in February, suggesting the sector will continue to support the economic recovery.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernadette Baum)