[LONDON] British factory output recorded its biggest annual fall in nearly three years in March, as shutdowns in the steel industry due to global overcapacity led broad-based declines, official figures showed on Wednesday.
Manufacturing in March was 1.9 per cent lower than a year earlier, the steepest decline since May 2013, the Office for National Statistics said and in line with economists'predictions in a Reuters poll.
In March alone, manufacturing output edged up by 0.1 per cent, slightly less than forecast, after dropping by 0.9 per cent in February.
But the figures do not point to any revision of the estimate of overall gross domestic product released last month, the ONS said, in part due to big upward revisions for the broader measure of industrial output for February.
These reflected a recalculation of the effect of the leap year, and late data on the oil and gas industry, which recorded a 17.0 per cent annual increase in production in February, and a 10.9 per cent annual gain in March.
Overall industrial output rose 0.3 per cent on the month in March and was 0.2 per cent lower than a year earlier.
For the first quarter as a whole, figures were unchanged from those used in April's first-quarter GDP estimate, with a quarterly decline of 0.4 per cent.
The ONS said that basic iron and steel manufacturing in March was down by 37.3 per cent compared with a year earlier and contributed to a drag of 0.3 per centage points on annual industrial output.
Britain's overall economy slowed in the first quarter, preliminary data has shown, with the pace of growth easing to 0.4 per cent compared with 0.6 per cent in the previous three months.
Things could get worse in the second quarter. A series of surveys of businesses published last week suggested growth was on course to slow to just 0.1 per cent in the April-June period.
The Bank of England has said the approach of the June 23 EU referendum has caused some companies to put investment plans on hold. British manufacturers have also been hurt by the slump in global oil prices, which has hurt many of their clients in the North Sea oil industry, and by the global economic slowdown.
The ONS said it had no anecdotal evidence of the effect of the referendum on output.
The BoE is expected to keep interest rates on hold when its monthly policy decision is announced on Thursday. The Bank has previously said that it will try to look beyond volatility in economic data caused by the approach of the referendum.