Australia's Performance of Manufacturing Index improved to 33.4 in March from 31.7 in February, results of the survey by the Australian Industry Group and Pricewaterhouse Coopers said Wednesday. However, the index continued to remain below the 50-level mark, indicating contraction.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below 50 signals contraction.

The AiG's Chief Executive Heather Ridout said, The manufacturing industry continues to endure extremely challenging economic conditions.

Production, capacity utilization and exports remain in the doldrums, with the new orders reading, although a little up from February - not indicating any early pick up. Employment fell across the board, while wages growth continued to ease.

In March, the production index dropped 28.7 from 30.1, while the rate of capacity utilization dropped to 67.3%, to reach the lowest level since the series began in 1992.

New orders contracted for the 11th consecutive month, but the index rose to 31.4 from 28.1. The employment index contracted for the 13th consecutive month, but index increased to 33.6 from 32.8.

Inventories index rose to 45.4 from 43.4, but remained below the no-change mark for the sixth consecutive month. The deliveries index increased to 37.1 from 32.5, and was in contraction for the seventh consecutive month.

Input price rise slowed in March, with the index moving down to 61.1 from 65.5. But, selling prices remained mostly stable, with the index rising to 50.2 from 48.3.

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