A joint reading of the U.S. manufacturing data from Markit Economics has hit the lowest level since September 2009, another sign that American industry has stumbled in the early months of the year. At 51.0, the Purchasing Managers' Index, or PMI, undershot analysts' expectations of a preliminary reading of 52.5.

"Every indicator from the flash PMI survey, from output, order books and exports to employment, inventories and prices, is flashing a warning light about the health of the manufacturing economy," said Chris Williamson, Markit's chief economist, in a statement with the data release. The February flash PMI is an early reading of data capturing at least 85 percent of total survey responses. 

NewsCommentaryContentImage Manufacturing contracted for the third consecutive month in February. Photo: Markit Economics

In the past several months manufacturing has felt the weight of what economists at Deutsche bank in a recent note called "a nearly unprecedented appreciation of the dollar," weighing on export demand. As a result, Williamson said, hiring has tapered and inventories have risen. Prices have fallen at the fastest rate since 2012. 

In sum, Williamson said, business managers reported "general slowdown in trade and the economy," even as economists pointed to a potential easing of the slowdown in manufacturing. The manufacturing sector accounts for roughly 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. 

Recent regional reports of manufacturing have also painted a dour picture. The Empire State index, which surveys business managers in New York, fell short of economists' expectations in February with a reading of -16.64, below the consensus estimate of -10. Readings below zero connote economic contraction. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve measure of economic activity exceeded projections last week, but remained weak in February.