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U.S. factory activity in March was weakest since 2009 - IHS Markit

FILE PHOTO: A production line employee works at the AMES Companies shovel manufacturing assembly line in Camp Hill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. manufacturing sector contracted in March, with activity hitting its lowest level since 2009, as the coronavirus pandemic caused widespread shortages, a survey confirmed on Wednesday.

Data firm IHS Markit said its final U.S. manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index fell to a reading of 48.5 this month, the lowest reading since August 2009. That was a downward revision from the 'flash' figure of 49.2 reported last week and lower than 50.7 reported in February. It blamed the drop on "widespread supply shortages linked to the COVID-19 pandemic."

COVID-19 is the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. The United States has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 163,000 people infected. At least 3,017 people in the U.S. have died from the illness, according to a Reuters tally.

A PMI reading below 50 indicates contraction in the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 11% of economic activity. A measure of new orders received by factories tumbled in March to the lowest level since August 2009.

Manufacturers also cut their workforce numbers at the sharpest rate since October 2009 and reported the need for lower operating capacity. That was mirrored in a strong fall in backlogs of work, the survey showed.

IHS Markit said weak demand resulted in firms processing work-in-hand at the fastest pace since 2009. It said worries about the length of business shutdowns and the slow recovery thereafter led to the lowest degree of confidence since data collection for the series began in July 2012.


(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)