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January 06. 2014 11:55PM
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US services index

slips; orders fall

U.S. service companies expanded at a steady but slightly slower pace in December as sales dipped and new orders plunged to a four-year low. The report suggests economic growth may remain modest in the coming months.

The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its service-sector index fell to 53 last month, down from 53.9 in November. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

A measure of new orders plummeted 7 points to 49.4, the first time it has dropped below 50 since July 2009. A gauge of business stockpiles also fell sharply.

But a gauge of hiring increased 3.3 points to 55.8, evidence that services firms are adding more jobs.

That’s a good sign for December’s jobs report, which will be released Friday.

Factory orders up

in November

Factory orders in the U.S. rose in November, signaling a jump in investment that could fuel economic growth in 2014.

The Commerce Department reported Monday that orders of goods such as machinery increased 1.8 percent that month. October was revised to show a 0.5 percent drop, up from a previously reported 0.9 percent decline.

Factory orders climbed 2.5 percent in the past 12 months. In November alone, orders of manufactured goods climbed to $497.9 billion, the highest level since 1992, the agency said.

That, combined with other positive employment and housing data, raised hopes the economy will gain momentum in the new year as Americans increasingly make big-ticket purchases such as houses and automobiles.

The November gains were driven by a 21.8 percent gain in aircraft orders. Core capital goods, an indicator of business investment, climbed 4.1 percent.

Durable goods enjoyed a gain of 3.4 percent in November, compared with nondurable goods such as clothing, which rose 0.3 percent.

Delta retiring

35-year-old DC-9

Delta Air Lines is retiring its last DC-9s, the oldest passenger plane in the fleet of the big U.S. airlines.

The plane that will fly Delta’s final scheduled DC-9 passenger flight is 35 years old and was first delivered to North Central Airlines. A series of airline mergers brought it to Delta.

The final passenger flight was set for Minneapolis to Atlanta on Monday evening. Delta is keeping two planes as spares for a few more weeks.

Almost 1,000 DC-9s were built. At one time they accounted for almost one-third of the fleet at Northwest Airlines, which Delta bought in 2008.

Delta is known for buying used airplanes and flying them longer than other airlines. Even Delta’s DC-9 replacement is a hand-me-down — used Boeing 717s from AirTran.

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