US manufacturing activity eased back in February, according to figures released on Wednesday. Markit’s final manufacturing purchasing managers’ index fell to 54.2 from January’s 22-month peak of 55.0, and was a touch lower than the flash estimate of 54.3. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below signals contraction. The decline in the index reflected a moderation in new order growth from January’s 28-month peak, and a slightly softer rise in output volumes. Meanwhile, manufacturers reported a sustained rise in inventory levels, which was linked to greater production schedules and expected improvements in client demand. Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Global Insight, said it was still too early to tell if this was the start of a more prolonged slowdown. “Even with the latest slowing, the goods-producing sector is still on course for its best quarter for two years, representing a markedly improved picture compared to this time last year.