The nation's manufacturing sector contracted in November for the 16th straight month, though the rate of decline slowed.

The Tempe, Ariz.-based National Association of Purchasing Management said Monday that its index of business activity rose to 44.5 in November from 39.8 in October. Analysts had been expecting a reading of 39.0.

An index above 50 signifies growth in manufacturing, while a figure below 50 shows contraction.

"After absorbing last month's aftershock of the terrorist attacks, the manufacturing sector showed surprising resilience in November," said Norbert J. Ore, who oversees the monthly report.

Ore said he was encouraged that several components, particularly new orders, rose sharply last month. However, it is too soon to tell whether the manufacturing sector is headed for a quick recovery, he added.

"The manufacturing decline is now in its 16th month, and even with this month's signs of encouragement, it takes time to build a recovery across the sector," he said.

The NAPM measure is closely tracked because it offers an early reading on the health of the manufacturing sector in October. Its index is based on a survey of purchasing executives who buy the raw materials for manufacturing at more than 350 companies.