The Empire State manufacturing index, the first of the many regional manufacturing gauges to be released, fell to negative 3.6 in December from 10.2 in November, the New York Fed said Monday. This is the first negative reading since January 2013 and came as a surprise to analysts. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected the index to inch higher to a 12.0 reading, in the gauge where readings above zero indicate improving conditions. Readings during the fourth quarter show a "significant downshift in activity" from levels seen in prior two quarters, the New York Fed said. The index had stood at 27.5 in September. The new orders index and shipments also turned negative in December. The index for number of employees held steady but the average workweek declined for the fourth straight month.
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