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US industrial output jumps 0.4% in March but manufacturing falls

[WASHINGTON] A sharp spike in heating demand in March drove US industrial output higher, but auto production fell dramatically in the month pulling manufacturing lower, the Federal Reserve reported Tuesday.

The Industrial Production index jumped 0.5 per cent last month, slightly more than the consensus forecast, pushed by the highest increase in utilities output ever recorded: an 8.6 per cent surge as colder weather returned after the unseasonably warm February.

But manufacturing output - a key focus of President Donald Trump's administration - fell 0.4 per cent, after sixth straight months of increases, due to a three per cent drop in motor vehicle and parts production, the report said.

Factory output outside of motor vehicles and parts also declined, slipping 0.2 per cent compared to February.

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Overall manufacturing, which represents more than 70 per cent of the Industrial Production index, is still 0.8 per cent higher than a year ago, and "increased at an annual rate of 2.7 per cent in the first quarter," the report said. Auto output is up 1.3 per cent from the same month of last year.

Meanwhile, mining production edged up 0.1 per cent, a much slower pace than in recent months, with increases in oil and gas offsetting the drop in coal mining, but was 2.9 per cent higher than March 2016.

Industrial capacity in use in the month continued its slow by steady rise, moving up to 76.1 per cent from 75.7 per cent in the prior month.