WASHINGTON — U.S. services companies grew last month at the fastest pace in nearly a year, potential good news for the U.S. economy.

The Institute for Supply Management says its services index jumped to 57.1 in September, the highest point since 58.3 last October. It was a big improvement on the August reading of 51.4, the lowest since February 2010. Anything above 50 signals growth.

New orders, production, export orders and employment grew faster last month.

Services firms have now grown for 80 straight months and have been a source of strength in an economy that has registered lackluster growth since late last year.

The ISM is a trade group of purchasing managers. Its services survey covers businesses that employ the vast majority of workers, including retail, health care and financial companies.

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