TEMPE, Ariz. ( TheStreet) -- The Institute for Supply Management's Manufacturing Business Survey showed its eighth consecutive month of growth in March, and its fastest-growth rate since July 2004, according to the latest ISM data released on Thursday mid-morning.

New orders and production reached above the 60-point mark, positive indicators that offset a decline in the ISM's employment index, which slipped by a point in March.

The PMI registered 59.6 in March, an increase of 3.1% over February's seasonally adjusted reading of 56.5. If the PMI for March is annualized, it corresponds to a 5.9% increase in real GDP annually, the ISM reported.

The ISM's new orders index was 2 percentage points higher than the seasonally adjusted 59.5 percent registered in February -- the ninth consecutive month of growth in the new orders index.

ISM's Employment Index registered 55.1% in March, which is 1% lower than the seasonally adjusted 56.1% reported in February. Still, it was the fourth consecutive month of growth in manufacturing employment. Thirteen of the 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in employment in March.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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