Ahead of the Bell: US manufacturing

The Institute for Supply Management releases its January survey on U.S. manufacturing production, orders, hiring and other activity at 10 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

FIVE STRAIGHT: Economists predict that factory activity increased for the fifth straight month and even picked up the pace a bit. According to a survey by the data firm FactSet, economists forecast that the institute's manufacturing index rose to 55 last month from December's 54.7, which was the highest level in two years. Anything above 50 signals that manufacturing is expanding.

The ISM is a trade group for purchasing managers.

BOUNCING BACK: Factories have been expanding despite a strong U.S. dollar, which makes American products more expensive in overseas markets. They also have recovered from big cutbacks in the energy industry, which reflected low oil prices.

MIXED SIGNALS: The ISM's findings aren't always in line with other measures of manufacturing health.

For instance, the institute's survey showed that factories expanded hiring in October, November and December. But the Labor Department says American manufacturing jobs fell by 4,000 in October and 7,000 in November before increasing by 17,000 in December. Overall, Labor reported that factories cut 45,000 jobs in 2016, the first annual drop in manufacturing employment since the recession year 2009.

Likewise, the Federal Reserve reported last month that U.S. factory production ticked up a modest 0.2 percent last year.