Manufacturing surge pushes industrial production up 0.3pc

WASHINGTON (AP) — United States (US) industrial production increased 0.3 per cent in December last year, led by the biggest surge in manufacturing in 10 months.

The Federal Reserve said on Friday that that manufacturing output jumped 1.1 per cent last month, the largest gain since February 2018. Automakers drove much of the growth with a 4.7 per cent jump in production.

Utility output slumped 6.3 per cent amid an unseasonably warm December 2018. Mining output rose 1.5 per cent on increased extraction of oil and natural gas.

Overall industrial production is up four per cent from a year ago.

“This was a solid report and a good finish to 2018,” said Senior Economist at BMO Capital Markets Jennifer Lee.

Tyler Snowden of Case IH-Goodfield welds a field cultivator main frame on the shop floor at the plant in Goodfield, Illinois. – AP

The manufacturing sector was also using more of capacity, a sign that companies might need to invest more in equipment and facilities. Capacity utilisation at factories increased 0.7 points to 76.5 per cent, a solid increase though that’s two points below the long-term average.

Manufacturers have benefited from a relatively healthy economy, despite concerns about a global slowdown, a trade war between the United States and China and the waning stimulus from President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.

Auto sales improved 0.3 per cent in 2018 to 17.27 million vehicles sold.

Yet there are also signs that manufacturers might struggle to keep expanding.

The Institute for Supply Management, an association of purchasing managers, said earlier this month that US factories expanded at the weakest pace since November 2016. The survey-based index fell to 54.1 in December 2018, a decline from 59.3 in November 2018. Still, any reading above 50 points to continued growth.