Manufacturing growth hit a seven-month low in March with a key indicator falling for a fourth straight month, an IHS Markit/Nikkei survey found.

Survey results released on Monday showed the seasonally adjusted Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) at 51.5 from 51.9 in February that, while described as “signaling a modest improvement to operating conditions”, was also tagged as indicating “weaker growth at Filipino manufacturers”.

The PMI is a composite index that represents the weighted average of new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery time and stocks. Readings above 50 signal an expansion while those below indicate a contraction.

“Slowing output growth and a comparably modest rise in new business hampered manufacturers in March, with the PMI sliding for the fourth month running,” IHS Markit economist David Owen said.

“Port congestion at Manila continues to increase lead times and reduce raw material supply, and will likely harm exports if the problem is not contained. However, managers will be pleased with reports of even softer price pressures, which should boost profit margins,” he added.

“Overall for the first quarter, the PMI points to weaker growth in manufacturing production compared to the end of 2018, with employment trends also remaining subdued.”

Output expansion was said to have notably dropped in March and while new order growth stayed positive, demand from abroad dipped.

Employment fell slightly with firms citing resignations as a key factor.

“On the price front, Filipino manufacturers recorded a solid rise in output charges in March,” IHS Markit/Nikkei said.

“However, the rate of increase was still weaker than on average last year. Firms that raised fees related this to higher costs. Firms that raised fees related this to higher costs,” they added.

Business sentiment about the future, meanwhile, dropped to a record low in March and more firms were said to have doubts about output growth this year.