December 1998 saw the seventh straight month of manufacturing activity decline in the United States. That's the word from purchasing executives in the latest Manufacturing NAPM (National Assn. of Purchasing Management) Report On Business. "Both production and the new orders declined, signaling that the manufacturing sector is obviously struggling," says Norbert Ore, chair of NAPM's Manufacturing Business Survey committee, who issued the report earlier this month. NAPM's Purchasing Managers' Index was 45.1% in December, down from 46.8% in November. A PMI reading below 50% shows manufacturing is "generally contracting," says NAPM. The PMI is a composite of five indexes. Survey responses reflect change in the current month compared to the previous month. The net change is derived from the difference between the number of responses in the positive economic direction and the negative economic direction. The five indexes for December are: new orders, which rose 0.5% to 46.0% despite a larger number of managers reporting "worse" conditions; production, down 2.1% to 46.5%; supplier deliveries, reversing direction and falling 1.7% to 48.5% indicating faster deliveries in December; inventories, liquidating faster as the index decreased 3.1% to 41.8%; and employment, declining 4.1% to 40.8%. Purchasers continued to express concern about exports, and to note softness in the steel industry.