Perhaps the headline writer meant that the May reading of 49.6, as compared to the prior month’s reading of 48.6, was an improvement.
But anything below 50 represents a contraction — not a pick up in activity.
ISM Factory Index in U.S. Shrank Less Than Forecast (Bloomberg) http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aggPD2WvFTw4&
ISM Mfg Index (Barron’s Econoday)