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Service sector growing again, but jobs still few

NEW YORK --- A gauge of the U.S. service sector returned to growth in December, aided by the holiday season's retail sales. The expansion reflected a slowly improving economy but was too slight to generate much hiring.

The Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, said Wednesday that its service index rose to 50.1 in December from 48.7 in November. A level above 50 signals growth. Seven industries out of 18 reported growth, led by agriculture and retail. The ISM's employment gauge, which hasn't grown in two years, shrank again in December, though at a slower pace than in November. It reached 44 in December, up from 41.6 a month earlier.

In other news

HUNDREDS OF THE 1,350 General Motors Co. dealers who lost their franchises last year could see them restored in a congressionally mandated arbitration process that begins later this month, the company's interim CEO said. CEO and Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. also said new Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell is a candidate for the CEO post, and Mr. Whitacre said he's not confident about selling the Swedish Saab brand.

DEFENSE CONTRACTOR Lockheed Martin said Wednesday that it plans to cut 1,200 jobs to lower costs as it combines two units. The cuts amount to less than 1 percent of the company's total work force of about 140,000.


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