Manufacturing conditions in the Philadelphia area improved somewhat in early December, a surprising bit of good economic news, according to a monthly business survey released yesterday by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

But overall conditions remained recessionary, and company managers seemed pessimistic about business conditions over the next six months.

The survey's broadest measure of manufacturing conditions improved to negative 32.9 in December from negative 39.3 in November. A zero reading indicates flat growth, and a negative reading indicates a contraction of the region's manufacturing sector.

Companies reported falling prices for raw materials, and 42 percent of the companies answering the Fed's survey said they were decreasing employment. Typically about 100 manufacturing companies participate in the Philly Fed's survey.

The survey covers the eastern two-thirds of Pennsylvania, the southern half of New Jersey and all of Delaware.

Separately yesterday, the Conference Board, a private research group in New York, said its measure of the economy's health fell in November for the second straight month. The index of leading economic indicators dropped 0.4 percent last month, slightly better than the 0.5 percent decline economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected.

The index is designed to forecast economic activity in the next three to six months based on 10 economic components, including stock prices, building permits and initial claims for unemployment benefits.

The index has decreased 2.8 percent in the six months through November, the worst drop since 1991, when the economy was in a recession.

Drops in building permits and stock prices, and increases in unemployment claims led the index lower.

Without increases to the money supply from federal bailouts, the leading indicators' reading would have been far worse.