ByBridgeNews The manufacturing sector contracted for the ninth straight month in April, but prices are falling and businesses are working through their backlog of inventory, the National Assn. of Purchasing Management (NAPM) reported May 1. The group, based in Tempe, Ariz., says its index of economic activity in manufacturing rose to 43.2 in April from 43.1 in March, but remained below 50.0, the dividing line between economic growth and contraction. Economists had expected a reading of 43.5. "As the sector is struggling to gain a foothold that will reverse the decline, it is encouraging that pricing pressures appear to be moderating and inventory liquidation has accelerated," says Norbert J. Ore, chairman of the NAPM. The manufacturing index's price component, which measures how much producers pay for materials, fell to 48.9 in April from 49.9 in March. The inventory index declined to 39.6 from 44.2 in March. NAPM said its index of employment in the manufacturing sector fell to 38.1 from 40.4 in March. Only three industries in the manufacturing sector -- food, chemicals, and NAPM's miscellaneous category, which includes makers of jewelry, toys, and sporting equipment -- reported growth.