An economic snapshot of the manufacturing heavy U.S. fell to its lowest level since July 2009.
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The Chicago Business Barometer, formerly known as the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index, tumbled to 45.8 in February from January's 59.4. The index fell below the 50-point threshold--indicating that business activity is contracting--for the first time since April 2013.
The swoon was fueled by double-digit declines in the production, new orders, order backlog and employment indexes.
While the West Coast port strike and the harsh winter probably contributed to the declines, it remains too early to tell if the effects pertain only to February.
Commenting on the Chicago report, Philip Uglow, chief economist of MNI Indicators said, "It's difficult to reconcile the very sharp drop in the Barometer with the recent firm tone of the survey. There's some evidence to point to special factors such as the port strike and the weather, although we'll need to see the March data to get a better picture of underlying growth."