WASHINGTON — Business at U.S. services companies surged in July, the Institute for Supply Management reported Wednesday.
The institute said its services index rose to 60.3 last month, highest since the index was created in 2008 and up from 56 in June. Any reading above 50 shows growth in the services sector.
Its measure of business activity for services firms rose to 64.9 from 61.5 in June. New orders and employment were also up strongly. Export orders also rose at a faster pace, despite a strong dollar that makes U.S. products and services more expensive in overseas markets.
Anthony Nieves, chairman of the institute's services survey committee, said growth in services usually cools during the summer, so the July surge "is a bit unusual." He said a strong job market might be helping services firms. Unemployment has tumbled to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.
The ISM is a trade group of purchasing managers. Its services survey covers businesses that employ 90 percent of workers, including retail, construction, health care and financial services companies.
Fifteen of 18 services industries reported growth.
The performance of the services sector last month was in contrast to U.S. manufacturing: On Monday, the institute reported that factories were less busy in June. Its manufacturing index slipped to 52.7 last month from 53.5 in June. Hiring slowed at U.S. factories last month, but production and new orders rose.
Adam Collins, economist at Capital Economics, said the growth in services last month "more than offsets the weakness in the manufacturing sector ... All things considered, this survey reinforces our view that the economy is on a strong footing and suggests that (economic) growth will accelerate in the second half of the year."
The economy grew at an annual pace of just 0.6 percent from January through March and 2.3 percent from April through June. Economists are expecting annualized growth of 2.5 percent to 3 percent in the second half of the year.