It appears that the new year is getting off on the right foot for U.S. businesses after factories finished strong in 2013 and jobless claims fell.  

The monthly index from The Institute for Supply Management (ISM), a nonprofit group focused on research and education in supply management, reached 57 percent in December. While it's a slight drop from November, a figure of greater than 50 percent indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector. The index is based on new orders and other data from a survey of purchasing managers across 18 manufacturing industries. 

ISM's employment index for the manufacturing sector reached 56.9 percent, its highest point since June 2011, according to a report issued by the group. ISM says an employment index of more than 50.5 percent is typically consistent with Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing rising employment in the manufacturing industry.  

The new figures come on the heels of the U.S. unemployment report released this week by the Labor Department that showed a slight drop in new jobless claims--from 341,000 to 339,000--for the week ending December 28, 2013. 

The four-week average of new claims in December did increase by 8,500, but that average is still indicative of a modestly improving market, The Wall Street Journal reports.