U.S. Service Sector Ticked Slightly Lower in February

The U.S. service sector expanded modestly in February, providing some reassurance that the strength of American consumers can offset headwinds from abroad.

The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday its gauge of nonmanufacturing activity fell slightly to 53.4 in February, from January's reading of 53.5. A reading above 50 indicates the service sector is expanding.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected the index to register at 53.0 in February.

The services sector has been a consistent bright spot for the economy during much of the expansion, growing for 73 straight months, according to ISM. But February's reading is below the 12-month average of 56.6 and is consistent with a general easing for the sector since the fall.

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com