The manufacturing sector grew for the 20th consecutive month in January, though at a moderated pace, a private research group reported Tuesday, affirming the rebound in activity at the nations' factories.

The Institute for Supply Management (search) said that its index measuring manufacturing activity (search) declined to 56.4 in January, from a revised reading of 57.3 in December. The January figure was slightly below the reading of 57 anticipated by analysts.

Although the index declined, the fact that it remained above 50 indicates that the sector continued to grow last month but at a somewhat slower pace.

A reading of 50 or above in the index means the manufacturing sector is expanding, while a figure below 50 represents a contraction.

Norbert J. Ore (search), chairman of the institute's survey committee, said the January index reflects continued strength in manufacturing, with both production and employment picking up.

"January sets the tone for a strong first quarter. Even though the (index) is slightly lower, the month-over-month growth is still quite strong, and will provide significant momentum for the remainder" of the quarter, Ore said. "Demand for exports continues to be quite strong, with a number of industries reporting significant growth."