PHILADELPHIA ( TheStreet) -- Manufacturers around the Philadelphia region said economic conditions improved for the third straight month, a further sign of expansion in the factory sector.

A manufacturing index released Thursday from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve edged higher to read 20.2 in April, landing just ahead of consensus forecasts provided by Briefing.com anticipating a reading at 20. In March, the gauge, which is created using responses from manufacturing executives in the region, registered 18.9.

Individual indexes tracking new orders and inventories showed improvements during April, with inventories, in particular, snapping back to a positive 2 reading after registering -11 in March.

But measures for shipments dropped to 5.6 in April after reading 13.6 the month before, while a delivery times index fell to 5.4 from 7.9.

Labor market conditions showed some improvement, with the average employee workweek rising to 8.3 from 7.6 in March. But a gauge examining the number of employees fell back over a point to read 7.3 in April.

The pickup in factory activity in the Philadelphia area also corresponds to an earlier reading from New York, which showed manufacturing activity there surging in April.

Stocks were mixed, coming under pressure from an unexpected increase in new jobless claims for persons seeking state unemployment benefits.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York

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