A gauge of manufacturing in New York state grew at a slower rate than the previous month and below expectations in April after a slight decline in new orders and a drop in inventories, the New York Federal Reserve said in a report on Tuesday.

The New York Fed's "Empire State" general business conditions index fell to 1.29 this month, the lowest since November, from 5.61 in March. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 8.0.

Readings above zero indicate growth.

New orders fell to -2.77 from 3.13, the lowest since November, while inventories slid to -3.06 from 7.06.

Employment gauges were mixed. The index for the number of employees rose to 8.16 from 5.88 while the average employee workweek index fell to 2.04 from 4.71.

The index of business conditions six months ahead rose to 38.23 in April from 33.21 in March.

The survey of manufacturing plants in New York state is one of the earliest monthly guideposts to U.S. factory conditions.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)