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US private-sector output growth hits 5-month high, but misses expectations

Growth in U.S. private-sector business activity reached a five-month high in December on the back of improved manufacturing conditions and service sector growth, flash data from IHS Markit showed.

The IHS Markit Flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index, a weighted average of manufacturing output and business activity in the services sector, came in at a reading of 52.2, up from 52.0 recorded in the previous month. That signaled the fastest rate of private-sector output growth since July.

The consensus estimate of economists polled by Econoday was for an index reading of 52.4.

The latest survey data shows that the U.S. economy continues to regain growth momentum, pointing to a GDP expansion of 2.2% in 2020, according to IHS Markit Chief Business Economist Chris Williamson. "Importantly, however, the welcome signs of improvement help to ward off recession risks and should keep the Fed on hold in the coming months," he said.

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Flash U.S. Services PMI Business Activity Index rose to a reading of 52.2 this month from 51.6 in November, marking the sharpest pace of increase since July. An index reading above 50 indicates an overall increase.

Businesses reported a pickup in export orders at the end of the year, following four successive monthly decreases. In addition, stronger business growth led to a rise in output expectations among service providers, and employment posted marginal growth for the second consecutive month.

Meanwhile, the Flash U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index ticked down to a reading of 52.5 in December from 52.6 in November amid one of the strongest overall improvements in operating conditions in 2019, IHS Markit said. Continued growth in output and new orders supported manufacturing expansion this month.

Employment in the manufacturing sector also improved as goods producers added workers in a bid to cut down pressure on capacity, according to IHS Markit.

Expectations for business activity in 2020 rose further in the services and manufacturing sectors to reach the highest level since June, reflecting more favorable conditions and lesser fears over trade wars, Williamson said.