TAIPEI, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Taiwan's manufacturing activity contracted for the fifth consecutive month in March, according to the latest purchasing managers index (PMI) reading by the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (CIER) Monday. The PMI for March stood at 48.8 despite a mild increase of 0.5 points from February. A PMI above 50 suggests expansion, while below means contraction. The business outlook index for the next six months swung back to expansion to 52.1 in March after contracting since September last year, indicating improving sentiment among most manufacturers. Based on data compiled from monthly replies to questionnaires sent to executives in about 300 representative manufacturing companies, the PMI measures new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and employment. For the services sector, the non-manufacturing index (NMI) rose by 5.5 points from the previous month to 53.3 in March, snapping a contracting streak of two months, according to the CIER. But the outlook index for the non-manufacturing sector over the next six months contracted for the ninth consecutive month, despite an increase of 2.9 points to 48.7 in March.