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UK factory output posts biggest drop in a year after Brexit vote

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British manufacturing output fell in July at the fastest pace in a year, confirming earlier signs that factories took an immediate hit after the vote to leave the European Union, official data showed on Wednesday.

[LONDON] British manufacturing output fell in July at the fastest pace in a year, confirming earlier signs that factories took an immediate hit after the vote to leave the European Union, official data showed on Wednesday.

But overall industrial output unexpectedly rose thanks to strong oil and gas production, the Office for National Statistics said.

Output in manufacturing fell 0.9 per cent following a 0.2 per cent drop in June. Economists polled by Reuters had expected manufacturing output to fall 0.4 per cent in July.

The data are the first official figures to cover economic output solely for the period after the June 23 Brexit vote. Britain was plunged into political chaos in the weeks after the referendum before the formation of a new government under Prime Minister Theresa May.

Data released earlier on Wednesday showed Germany industrial production posted its steepest fall in 23 months in July. Economists said the German figures probably reflected concerns about the consequences of Britain's decision to leave the EU.

A closely watched survey by financial data company Markit had already suggested British manufacturing output plunged in July before staging one of its sharpest rebounds on record in August, adding to signs that the impact of the referendum was not a bad as some forecasters feared.

The ONS said on Wednesday British industrial output in July unexpectedly rose 0.1 per cent on the month after stagnating in June, helped by oil and gas. Economists polled by Reuters had expected it to edge down 0.2 per cent.

Oil and gas production figures were boosted by continued output at the Buzzard oil field in the North Sea, which usually shuts down for maintenance in July. Maintenance this year will occur in September.

The pharmaceutical sector, which is often volatile, represented the main drag on manufacturing, but many other sectors fell too.

The ONS said there was no sign of manufacturers getting an immediate boost from sterling's plunge since the Brexit vote because contracts are usually slow to respond to currency fluctuations.

"There seems to have been no immediate benefit to UK manufacturers from the devaluation of the pound," ONS statistician Kate Davies said in a statement.

Despite signs that consumers have mostly shrugged off the Brexit vote, the economy looks set to slow in the third quarter. The Bank of England said last month it expected to cut interest rates again later this year.

Other private sector surveys suggest British manufacturers have benefitted the pound's plunge since June which has boosted export orders although there are also signs that import costs are rising fast - something that will squeeze profit margins and boost inflation.

REUTERS