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A private trade group says growth in the U.S. service sector accelerated in February to its fastest rate in more than two years.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday its index measuring service industries rose to 53 in February from 50.5 in January.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a smaller increase to 51.

Any level above 50 signals growth. The 53 reading is the highest since January 2008.

The service-sector gauge is closely watched because service jobs comprise more than 80 percent of non-farm U.S. employment in areas such as health care, retailing and financial services.

ISM says new orders grew for sixth straight month, while the decline in employment moderated.

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