NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. opened trading for the new year with a pair of economic figures that exceeded economists' expectations and signaled continued improvements in U.S. economic conditions. Manufacturing activity rose to 53.9 in December from a reading of 52.7 in November, according to a report from the Institute for Supply Management. Economists had forecast a rise to 53.2 for the month a survey by Thomson Reuters showed. The gain marks the 29th consecutive month the reading has remained above 50, a level that indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector. A reading below 50 would point to contraction. "Manufacturing is finishing out the year on a positive note, with new orders, production and employment all growing in December at faster rates than in November, and with an optimistic view toward the beginning of 2012 as reflected by the panel in this month's survey," Bradly Holcomb, chair of the ISM manufacturing business survey committee, said. A measure of new orders -- which measures expectations for future production -- rose for a third month, increasing to 57.6 in December from 56.7 in November. Meanwhile, construction spending increased for a fourth month, climbing 1.2% in November to $807.1 billion, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. The average economist estimate predicted a 0.5% increase, according Thomson Reuters. Construction spending has advanced 5.8% since falling to an 11-year low in March, but remains well below the $1.5 trillion considered healthy by economists as the industry struggles to recover from the 2008 housing crisis. -- Written by Kaitlyn Kiernan in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Kaitlyn Kiernan To follow the writer on Twitter, go to @Kaitlyn_Kiernan.