Business activity in the U.S. Midwest expanded in February for a fourth consecutive month but at a slower pace than in January, according to figures released Friday.

The National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago business barometer fell to 54.9 from 56.0 in January. A reading below 50 indicates a contracting regional manufacturing sector, while a reading above 50 signals expansion.

The index slipped below 50 in September and October, showing contraction for the first time in eight months. The pullback sparked concern about the U.S. economic recovery.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the February index at 53.0.

The employment component of the index rose to 46.6 from 45.6 in January. Prices paid rose to 54.9 from 54.2 last month.