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US services firms expand at slower pace in December on sharp fall in new orders; hiring jumps

U.S. service companies expanded at a steady but slightly slower pace in December as sales dipped and new orders plunged to a four-year low. The report suggests that growth may remain modest in the coming months.

The Institute for Supply Management says its service-sector index fell to 53 last month, down from 53.9 in November. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

A measure of new orders plummeted 7 points to 49.4, the first time it has dropped below 50 since July 2009.

But a gauge of hiring increased 3.3 points to 55.8, evidence that services firms are adding more jobs.

The survey covers businesses that employ 90 percent of the workforce, including retail, construction, health care and financial services firms.

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