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 today 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 are 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.