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    Growth at US service firms slows from 8-year high

    About 90 percent of the workforce is employed by a service industry, such as the restaurant business.
    Don Ryan/Associated Press
    About 90 percent of the workforce is employed by a service industry, such as the restaurant business.

    WASHINGTON — Growth at service companies slowed in September from an eight-year high in August as sales fell sharply, new orders declined, and hiring weakened.

    The Institute of Supply Management said its service-sector index fell to 54.4 in September, down from 58.6. August’s reading was the highest since December 2005.

    Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

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    Service industries cover 90 percent of the workforce, including retail, construction, health care, and financial services.

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    The ‘‘index still points to moderate growth in the fourth quarter,’’ said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

    Ashworth forecasts growth in the October-December quarter at an annual rate of 2 to 2.5 percent. That would be slightly better than the 1.5 to 2 percent rate economists predict for the July-September quarter.

    Ashworth said the fourth-quarter growth rate assumes the US government shutdown lasts no more than two weeks.

    If it persists, the shutdown could shave about 0.15 percentage points from the fourth-quarter figure for each week it lasts, according to estimates from a number of economists.

    Associated Press