Industrial Production Grows For Sixth Straight Month

WASHINGTON (AP) — Factories likely produced more goods in February in response to greater consumer demand, boosting industrial production for the sixth straight month.

Economists surveyed by FactSet expect output at the nation's factories, mines and utilities rose 0.6 percent last month. That would mark the biggest increase since December.

Overall industrial production dipped 0.1 percent in January, the first decline in 19 months. But that mostly reflected a decline in utilities following an unseasonably cold December.

Factory activity rose 0.3 percent. It was led by increased production of autos and business equipment. Analysts expect further growth in U.S. manufacturing, even with less demand from Japan. The world's third-largest economy is expected to reduce orders while it recovers from the powerful earthquake and ensuing nuclear crisis.

The Federal Reserve releases the report on Thursday at 9:15 a.m. EDT.

Industrial production increased in every month but one last year. It has risen by just over 11 percent since hitting its recession low in June 2009. But it remains about 6 percent below its pre-recession peak in September 2007.

Stronger factory activity has been an important factor supporting the economic recovery. And, it is playing an important role in helping the jobs market heal.

Factories added 33,000 jobs last month, the fourth straight month of gains. Manufacturers have created 190,000 jobs in the past year — the highest 12-month total for that sector since 1998.

Manufacturing activity has been supported by stronger demand at home and abroad. Sales of U.S. exports to foreign buyers have been rising. Until Japan's rebuilding phase kicks it, the country is likely to buy fewer goods and services from the United States.

But that is likely to be offset as foreign buyers look to U.S. exporters to fill orders instead of Japanese companies, analysts said.

Economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics, predicts increases in both overall industrial production and factory activity in March and April.

The earthquake in Japan damaged a nuclear power plant there, triggering a nuclear crisis. The earthquake struck last week. Thus, the disaster had no effect on February's industrial production figures.