The manufacturing sector grew in July for the 12th straight month and at a rate that was slightly better than expected, according to an industry report released on Monday.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity fell to 55.5 in July from 56.2 in June. The median forecast of 60 economists surveyed by Reuters was for a reading of 54.1. A reading below 50 indicates contraction in the manufacturing sector, while a number above 50 means expansion.

It was the third straight month of slower growth, however, and the lowest reading since December.

The report's employment component rose to 58.6 from 57.8 in June.