Factory activity grows at fastest pace in 7 years: Associated Press Business News - MSN Money Factory activity expanded in January at the fastest pace in nearly seven years, as manufacturers reported a sharp jump in new orders. Still, builders spent less on projects in December, pushing annual construction spending down to a decade low. The Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, said Tuesday that its index of manufacturing activity rose last month to 60.8, from 58.5 in December. The sector has expanded for 18 straight months, and January's reading was the highest since May 2004. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.