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US industrial output cools in March but stays strong

[WASHINGTON] US industrial output slowed last month amid a sudden drop off in manufacturing but remained strong overall thanks in part to higher energy consumption, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday.

A return to cooler weather after February's warm spell saw utilities ramp up production, pushing the monthly result past analyst expectations.

Industrial production rose 0.5 per cent in March, down from February's one percent gain but above the 0.3 per cent economists had predicted.

Despite the slowdown, which could point to more sluggish growth in the first quarter, March was still 4.3 per cent above the same month last year.

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Manufacturing growth, however, nearly ground to a halt, edging up only 0.1 per cent despite a 2.7 per cent jump in the auto sector, with vehicle assemblies moving up to an annual rate of 12 million units - the highest level since December of 2016.

Within the manufacturing sector, fabricated metal goods, computer and electronic equipment, printed matter, textiles and clothing all experienced sharp drops in March.

Total capacity in use rose to 78 per cent, also overshooting a consensus forecast and up three tenths of a point from February - but still below its long-term average.

Manufacturing capacity specifically fell 0.1 percent to 75.9 per cent, also below average.

Oil and gas production drove the mining sector one percent higher - although this was a slower gain than the 2.9 per cent recorded in February.