Manufacturing activity in the United States contracted at a slower place in April, according to the nonprofit trade group the Institute for Supply Management (ISM). The ISM's manufacturing index (PMI) was 40.1 for the month of April, an improvement of 3.8 percentage points over March's 36.3 reading. An index number below 50 indicates economic contraction. "After six consecutive months below the 40 percent mark, the PMI ... shows a significant improvement," says Norbert J. Ore, chair of the ISM's Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. "While this is a big step forward, there is still a large gap that must be closed before manufacturing begins to grow again." The ISM's report indicates that inventories contracted for the 36th straight month, but at a slower pace, and the new orders index contracted for the 17th consecutive month, but improved by 6 percentage points over the March reading.