WASHINGTON — The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index fell to 54.4 in September as new orders slowed,  group said Friday.

The factory gauge was at 56.3 in July. Readings above 50 represent growth. Lower readings signal contraction.

New orders fell to 51.1 from 53.1, inventories rose to 55.6 from 51.4, and employment fell to 56.5 from 60.4.

“The manufacturing sector throttled back on production and employment growth in the third quarter,” Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a research note. “Given the general alignment of sluggish consumer and business spending and orders, this situation is not expected to change much in the fourth quarter.”

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