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Analysts: U.S. Economy Weakening Faster Than Expected

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The U.S. manufacturing economy unexpectedly contracted in December, ending a streak of 10 consecutive months of growth and sinking to its lowest point in almost five years, a private research group said Wednesday. The decline suggests that the overall economy may be weakening faster than some economists predicted.

The figures are closely watched because a slowdown in factory production can translate to job cuts, which in turn reduces consumer spending -- a major component of the economy.

The Institute for Supply Management, a Tempe, Ariz.-based private research group, said its manufacturing index registered 47.7 last month, down 3.1 percentage points from the 50.8 recorded in November. A reading above 50 indicates growth; below that level indicates contraction.