By BridgeNews A key barometer of the health of the U.S. manufacturing economy inched up in February, but remained below the key 50 boom-bust level for the seventh straight month. The National Assn. for Purchasing Management (NAPM) says its index of economic activity rose to 41.9 in February from 41.2 in January and may indicate that the manufacturing sector has bottomed. The February index came in close to the 42.0 level economists had forecast. A reading above 50 indicates the manufacturing economy is generally expanding, and a reading below 50 signals it is generally contracting. While the NAPM index ticked up in February, the manufacturing sector still remains mired in recession as the overall index has stayed below 50 for seven consecutive months. Norbert J. Ore, chair of the NAPM's Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, says the fact that there has been a slowing in the rate of decline in six of the nine indexes "could be an indication that the manufacturing sector bottomed in January." But he cautions that it takes more than just one month's data to make such a determination. "The manufacturing sector definitely lacks momentum. While volumes are falling, many industries are still experiencing upward price pressures driven primarily by energy costs. The reduction in employment accelerated during the month," Ore says.