[LONDON] British factory orders stagnated unexpectedly in March, hurt by the sharpest decline of new business from abroad in more than two years, an industry survey showed on Monday.
The Confederation of British Industry survey's total order book balance fell to zero in March, a five-month low, from +10 in February, though it is still well above its long-run average. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a much smaller fall to +9.
The new export orders balanced slumped to -26, its lowest level since January 2013, from -8 in February.
"Sluggish export performance seems to be a headache that won't go away, with a still subdued eurozone and headwinds from a stronger pound," said Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI's director of economics.
Sterling has risen around 7 per cent against the euro since the start of the year, and minutes from the Bank of England's March policy meeting showed rate setters were concerned that sterling strength might depress inflation for a long time.
Despite the slowdown in orders, respondents to the CBI survey were upbeat about the next three months, although slightly less so than in February.
"Our manufacturers lost some of their steam from last month, but they continue to move steadily along a decent growth track," said Ms Newton-Smith.