"Manufacturing activity in the central Atlantic region expanded at a quicker pace in December," the monthly business activity survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said.

"All broad indicators — shipments, new orders and employment — posted solid gains," it said. "Other indicators also suggested stronger activity. District contacts reported that order backlogs returned to positive territory and capacity utilization grew at a faster pace. Manufacturers reported that delivery times grew at a somewhat higher rate, while inventories grew at a somewhat slower pace."

The manufacturing index increased to 25 in December from 9 in November. As for future outlook — six months from now — the shipments index was 43, up from 36 last month.

Meanwhile, "Activity in the service sector surged in December," the Richmond Fed's service-sector activity survey, released today, said. "Retail sales rose sharply and shopper traffic increased. However, weakness in big-ticket sales continued. Retail inventories grew rapidly this month. At non-retail services firms, revenue growth was a bit more widespread than a month ago. Looking ahead six months, survey respondents anticipated a stronger market for their goods and services."

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