WASHINGTON (AP) -- Growth at U.S. service companies slowed in September from an eight-year high in August, as sales fell sharply, new orders dipped and hiring weakened.<br />
The Institute of Supply Management says its service-sector index fell to 54.4 in September, down from 58.6 in August. August's reading was the highest since December 2005. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.<br />
A measure of sales fell seven points to 55.1, indicating much slower growth. And a gauge of hiring also dropped sharply to 52.7 from 57 in August.<br />
The report measures growth in service industries, which cover 90 percent of the workforce, including retail, construction, health care and financial services.