There have been a few other encouraging signs that factories may be recovering from their slump.
The Institute for Supply Management's closely watched index of manufacturing activity rose to a level that signaled growth in December. And manufacturers added 25,000 jobs last month — the best hiring spree for the sector since May.
Economists believe manufacturing could also get a boost from stronger business investment, provided that Congress raises the federal borrowing limit without a fight that damages business confidence. Companies are sitting on large amounts of cash. Analysts believe many are poised to start spending this year on computers, machinery and equipment to expand and modernize their operations.
The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the July-September quarter. But analysts believe activity slowed considerably in the October-December quarter to a rate below 2 percent or less, in part because companies cut back on restocking.
Less restocking leads to slower factory production, which weighs on economic growth.