Two days after the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported a modest further rise in manufacturing activity in November, the same trade group has now reported that the companion non-manufacturing survey had shown a lesser rate of gain last month than on October.

Specifically, the ISM noted that the non-manufacturing sector had come in with a survey result of 53.9. Although that was still well above the 50.0 dividing line between an expanding and a contracting services sector, the result was still slightly off from October’s 55.4 reading. It also was the lowest score since June, when this survey showed a 52.2 result.

Looking at some individual components that make up the 53.9 average score, we find that new orders held up well, coming in at 56.4 (off negligibly from October's 56.8 reading). Also, exports strengthened notably, surging from 53.0 to 58.0, but employment and prices both eased back to lesser rates of growth, respectively coming in at 52.5 and 52.2 from 56.2 and 56.1.

Meanwhile, the overall nonmanufacturing results for the past year have ranged from a low of 52.8 (in June of this year) to a high of 58.6 (in August of 2013). The average for the past 12 months has been 54.9, or just incrementally above the latest month's reading. Importantly, this was the 47th month in succession in which this index has shown growth--or nearly four years.

Overall, the sense we get from the remarks of the purchasing managers interviewed for this survey is that business is improving, but at an uneven pace, with some selective slowing noted a few pockets of expanding strength. On the whole, though, business remains quite good in the current quarter. As this sector is weighted heavily toward the consumer, who accounts for some two-thirds of total business activity stateside, this result, albeit not too exciting, is still quite satisfactory.

At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.