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The outlook brightened a bit for the Buffalo Niagara region’s manufacturers during April.

A new survey of local purchasing managers found that growth picked up to a five-month high last month, fueled by a surge in the flow of new orders.

The National Association of Purchasing Management said Buffalo’s index of business activity at local factories moved further into growth territory during April, hitting its highest level since December. The index improved to 54.7 during April, up from 50.9 in March, leaving it solidly above the reading of 50 that is the dividing line between growth and decline.

“Manufacturing activity generally seems to be warming up,” said Jay K. Walker, the Niagara University economist who compiles the report. While growth rates remain lower than from before a slowdown hit last summer, Walker said the trend appears to be turning positive, with factory executives reporting growth during four of the past six months.

For the second straight month, most of the growth came from a surge in the flow of new orders, while other key indicators, from production to employment, continued to weaken, according to the report, which offers one of the earliest glimpses at how a key part of the local economy is faring.

The surge in new orders during April lost a little strength from March’s initial spike, but showed that the springtime flow of new orders had some staying power. The group’s new order index, which can be highly volatile from one month to the next, eased to 66.7 last month, down from the more than 13-year high of 72.2 set in March, but still indicating strong growth.

A little more than five of every eight managers surveyed said the flow of new orders increased at their firms during April, while fewer than two in 10 said their companies booked less new work.

That strength was offset by continued weakness in production, which has declined during eight of the past nine months. But the pace of the slowdown eased considerably last month, with the group’s production index rebounding from the seven-month low it set in March.

The index improved to a four-month high of 49.1 during April, only slightly below the growth threshold. While more than half of the managers said production was stable at their firms during April, the number of managers reporting lower output fell to 18 percent from 40 percent in March.

With production still sluggish, hiring remained weak, with employment at local factories declining for the ninth straight month. The group’s employment index improved a bit, to 46.1 during April from 45.2 in March, but continued to show declines in factory jobs. Nearly one of every five managers surveyed said their factories cut jobs last month.

Commodity prices rose during April at their slowest pace in six months, while inventory levels grew for the second time in seven months.

Factory Growth Picks Up

Month Index

2013

April 54.7

March 50.9

February 47.7

January 47.8

2012

December 55.2

November 51.1

October 45.4

September 49.0

August 46.8

July 65.1

June 54.0

May 56.2

April 61.6

Source: National Association of Purchasing Management – Buffalo

NOTE: Index reading above 50 indicates growth; below 50 indicates a decline.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com