WASHINGTON-U.S. manufacturing activity expanded for the 12th consecutive month, providing fresh evidence that the economy is picking up steam.

The manufacturing index rose to 62.8 in May from 62.4 in April. The latest reading was the highest since a 63.6 reading posted in January, and was well above the 61.5 analysts had expected. An index reading above 50 indicates expansion. The gauge has been above 50 since June of last year.

The employment index showed growth for the seventh consecutive month, with a 61.9 reading in May. This is the highest since it reached 62.6 in April 1973. The employment reading in April was 57.8. An employment index reading higher than 48 generally predicts an increase in the Labor Department data on manufacturing employment.