US factory output rises in March, shaking off winter weakness

[WASHINGTON] Production at US factories increased in March by the most in eight months as manufacturing returned to a path of solid growth following a weather-related setback in February.

The 2.7 per cent increase in output followed a downwardly revised 3.7 per cent decline in February, Federal Reserve data showed on Thursday. Total industrial production, which also includes mining and utility output, rose 1.4 per cent in March after a revised 2.6 per cent decrease a month earlier.

The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 3.6 per cent monthly increase in factory production. The March reading was softer than forecast as automakers continued to deal with shortages of semiconductors.

The broader snapback in production follows on the heels of severe winter storms in February, which disrupted production and temporarily closed some plants. Output will probably remain firm in coming months against a backdrop of improving business confidence, trillions of dollars in government aid and a broader reopening economy.

The report showed increased factory output of machinery, metals, wood products, computers and apparel. Production of motor vehicles increased just 2.8 per cent after a 10 per cent slump a month earlier.

At the same time, producers continue to face persistent headwinds such as shipping challenges, supply shortages, rising costs of materials and difficulty finding labor. Factory capacity remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

Recent surveys reinforce the pickup in factory output. The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index rose to its highest level since late 1983 in March.

April Surveys Furthermore, regional Fed surveys out earlier on Thursday showed continued strength in April. A gauge of manufacturing in New York rose in April to the highest level since 2017, while the Philadelphia Fed's general activity index was the strongest since 1973.

Total industrial production is closing in on pre-pandemic levels and is down about 3 per cent from February 2020.

BLOOMBERG

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