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U.S. factory activity inches up in March - Markit

Ford Assembly workers install a battery onto the chassis of a Ford Focus Electric vehicle at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector edged higher in March, with factory activity showing the best gain since October, according to an industry report released Tuesday.

Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or "flash" U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index rose to 55.3 in March to its highest since October, when the final PMI was 55.9. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the March figure would come in at 54.7, after February's final reading of 55.1.

A reading above 50 indicates growth in the sector.

"Manufacturing regained further momentum from the slowdown seen at the turn of the year, with output, new orders and employment growth all accelerating in March," said Chris Williamson, Markit's chief economist.

The index's flash output component rose to 58.2 in March from February's final reading of 57.3.

The flash reading of the index measuring new orders also rose in March to its highest since October, coming in at 56.4 compared with February's final reading of 55.8.

Employment growth also rose in March from February, Markit said.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)