WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US manufacturing sector contracted in April for a 15th consecutive month but the pace of decline was less severe than expected, the Institute of Supply Management said Friday. The institute said its index of the factory sector, also known as the purchasing managers (PMI) index, rose to 40.1 percent from 36.3 percent in March still below the 50 percent level that separates expansion and contraction. Most analysts had expected the April figure at around 38.4 percent as government and private economic data showed that the recession that struck the United States in December 2007 was easing. The decline in the manufacturing sector continues to moderate, said Norbert Ore, head of the ISM manufacturing business survey committee. After six consecutive months below the 40-percent mark, the PMI shows a significant improvement, he said. But Ore added that while this was a big step forward, there was still a large gap that must be closed before manufacturing begins to grow once again.