The pace of growth in the vast U.S. services sector accelerated to its fastest pace in a year in February, helped by a pick up in new orders and demand for exports, an industry report showed on Tuesday.

The Institute for Supply Management said its services index rose to 56 from 55.2 in January, exceeding economists' forecasts for 55. It was the highest level since February 2012.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector.

The new orders index jumped to 58.2 from 54.4, while orders for exports rose to their highest level since May 2007 with that gauge at 60.5, up from January's 55.5.

The measure of the backlog of orders was at its highest since May 2011 at 54.5 against 49. But the employment index weakened slightly, edging down to 57.2 from 57.5 in January.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)