Factory activity in the Philadelphia region grew at a slightly slower pace in May

WASHINGTON – Manufacturing growth in the Philadelphia region slowed a bit in May, one of several recent signs the U.S. economy is barely improving after an anemic start to the year.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said Thursday that its index of factory activity slipped to 6.7 in May from 7.5 the previous month. Any reading above zero indicates that manufacturing is expanding.

Still, the index has been stuck in single digits for the first five months of this year. That compares with a recent high of 40.2 in November.

Measures of new orders and shipments increased but remained at low levels. A gauge of employment fell. Manufacturers are adding jobs, but at a slower pace than the previous month.

One bright spot in the survey: in response to a special question, nearly half of the respondents said they are raising starting salaries in order to find new workers.

The survey covers manufacturing in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

In another sign of tepid growth, sales of existing homes slipped in April, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. Higher home prices and a limited supply of available homes are weighing on sales.

Sales at retail stores and restaurants were flat last month, the government said last week. Americans are reluctant to spend freely, despite healthy levels of hiring and gas prices that are about $1 a gallon cheaper than a year ago.

Partly as a result, the economy likely shrank in the first three months of the year and so far is rebounding at a weak pace in the second quarter.