) -- The latest reads on business activity alleviated some fears that the U.S. is headed for a recession, but a significant recovery may still be a long time coming.

The Institute for Supply Management's Chicago Purchasing Managers' Index came in at 56.5 for August, beating expectations of a drop to 53. Readings above 50 indicate that an industry is growing. Still, the index is only slightly below July's 58.5 reading. Business orders and production in the Chicago region are at their lowest level since Nov 2009.

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Activity in Chicago has been stronger, however, than in the Philadelphia region, which saw a plunge in manufacturing activity in June, according to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.

Improvements in factory orders for July gave some hope that an economic turnaround might be on the horizon. New orders from U.S. companies increased 2.4%, a rebound from June's revised 0.4% decrease, according to the Commerce Department. The latest update was better than the 1.8% increase economists had anticipated.

-- Written by Chao Deng in New York