The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing business activity composite index was 52.0 in April on a seasonally adjusted basis, up from 49.6 in March, the group said yesterday.

Economists polled by IFR Markets had expected a 49.2 level.

The prices paid index, closely watched for signs of inflation, rose to 72.1 from 70.8. The employment index increased to 50.8 from 46.9.

The business activity index slid to 50.9 from 52.2, the new orders index was at 50.1, off from 50.2; backlog of orders gained to 50.0 from 47.5; new export orders stand at 48.5, down from 55.5; inventories declined to 47.0 from 51.5; inventory sentiment grew to 63.0 from 60.5; the supplier deliveries index soared to 56.0 from 49.0 last month, and imports fell to 50.0 from 54.5.

“The NMI (Non-Manufacturing Index) increased 2.4 percentage points to 52%, indicating expansion after three consecutive months of contraction within the non-manufacturing sector for April 2008,” said Anthony Nieves, chairman of the ISM’s non-manufacturing business survey committee.

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