The closely watched ISM purchasing managers' index rose to 40.1% from 36.3% in March. It's the highest since September, when the global financial crisis intensified. Generally, readings below the 50% mark show most firms think business is still getting worse.
The rise over 40% "shows a significant improvement," said Norbert Ore, chairman of the Tempe, Ariz.-based ISM's survey committee. "While this is a big step forward, there is still a large gap that must be closed before manufacturing begins to grow once again."
During this recession, output in manufacturing has fallen at the fastest pace since the end of World War II in the mid-1940s, according to separate data from the Federal Reserve.