US industrial output in February flat, manufacturing gains

US industrial output in February flat, manufacturing gains

Washington (AFP) - Manufacturing output posted its sixth straight increase in February, but unseasonably warm weather again dragged down utilities, keeping total industrial production flat in the month, the Federal Reserve reported Friday.

Multiple manufactured product lines saw increases of one percent and higher including machinery, plastic, paper and metal products, pushing total manufacturing output up 0.5 percent compared to January, the same increase as the prior month.

Motor vehicles and parts were just shy of that mark with an increase of 0.8 percent in the month, reversing the decline of the same amount in January.

Manufacturing output -- a key focus of President Donald Trump's administration -- was 1.2 percent higher than a year ago. The sector represents more than 70 percent of the overall index.

Meanwhile, mining output increased 2.7 percent, and was 1.8 percent higher than February 2016.

"In short, the details were much stronger than the utilities-depressed headline," Jim O'Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a research note.

"Manufacturing rose solidly and mining was up sharply. Both of those sectors appear to have picked up ... in recent months."

However, utilities output fell 5.7 percent, nearly the same decline as in January, "as continued unseasonably warm weather further reduced demand for heating," the report said.

That decline offset the gains in manufacturing and mining, to keep the overall Industrial Production index unchanged, after a drop of 0.1 percent in the prior month, also attributed to unusually high temperatures.

Economists had been expecting industrial production to rise 0.2 percent.

"We expected utility output to fall, but not by this much," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a research note.

Shepherdson cautioned that the recent increases in manufacturing production could reverse course in coming months since the sector has been helped by the same mild winter that hurt utilities.

"Overall, though, the manufacturing sector is recovering," he said.

Industrial capacity in use last month slipped to 75.4 percent, just a tenth lower than in January, and exactly as analysts forecast. Capacity utilized in manufacturing rose three-tenths to 75.6 percent.