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US service sector growth slows in January on drop in new orders, although hiring stronger

Growth at U.S. service companies slowed slightly in January behind a decline in new orders and business activity. But hiring improved, a bright sign for the economy.

The Institute for Supply Management says its index of non-manufacturing activity dipped to 55.2 in January from 55.7 in December. That's above the 12-monrth average of 54.5. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The report measures growth in industries that cover 90 percent of the work force, including retail, construction, health care and financial services.

A gauge of hiring rose to its highest level in nearly seven years. Service firms added a modest number of jobs in January, the government said last week.

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