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Industrial Production in U.S. Increases More Than Forecast

Industrial Production in U.S. Increases More Than Forecast
The 2012 Ford Focus is assembled during the launch of the small car at the Ford Motor Co. Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

Industrial production increased more than forecast in March, led by a rebound in consumer goods manufacturing, a sign that factories will keep driving the U.S. economy.

Output rose 0.8 percent, the fifth straight gain, after a revised 0.1 percent rise in February, the Federal Reserve said today in Washington. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected a 0.6 percent gain, according to the median estimate. Manufacturing, which makes up 75 percent of the total, climbed 0.7 percent following a 0.6 percent increase. Utility output and mining also rose.

Factories in the U.S. are benefiting from gains in business investment, expanding economies overseas and inventory rebuilding. The pace of production may cool temporarily as some factories scramble to replace supplies of parts interrupted after last month’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“The economy is really starting to take shape,” said Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York. While “we expect a cool down” in the next couple of months because of events in Japan, that will be “a short-lived phenomenon,” he said. “We’ve seen global manufacturing increase since the crisis.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 82 economists ranged from 0.2 percent to 1 percent. February production was initially reported as unchanged.

Stocks, Treasuries

Stocks increased after the report, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gaining 0.2 percent to 1,316.82 at 11:12 a.m. in New York. Treasuries rose, pushing down the yield on the benchmark 10-year note to 3.41 percent from 3.5 percent late yesterday.

Other figures today showed manufacturing in the New York region expanded this month by the most in a year. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s so-called Empire State factory index increased to 21.7 from 17.5 the prior month. Readings greater than zero signal growth.

The cost of living increased in March for a ninth straight month, led by increases in food and fuel, a Labor Department report showed.

The consumer-price index increased 0.5 percent for a second month. Excluding volatile food and energy, the so-called core gauge rose 0.1 percent, less than forecast and restrained by lower clothing expenses and smaller gains in medical care, according to Labor Department figures.

Capacity Utilization

Capacity utilization, which measures the amount of a plant that is in use, rose to 77.4 percent last month, the highest since August 2008, from a revised 76.9 percent in February, today’s Fed report showed. The gauge compares with the average of 79.5 percent over the past 20 years.

Mining production, which includes oil drilling, increased 0.6 percent in March after a 0.3 percent gain. Utility output climbed 1.7 percent last month, the first increase this year.

Output of motor vehicles and parts climbed 3 percent in March after rising 4.6 percent a month earlier. Manufacturing excluding automobiles and parts rose 0.6 percent after a 0.3 percent gain.

“Manufacturing activity remains very strong,” Jenny Lin, senior U.S. economist for Ford Motor Co., said on an April 1 conference call. “Interest rates remain very low. Consumer conditions are improving.”

Crude oil for May delivery rose to $108.11 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday.

Consumer Goods Production

Consumer goods production rose 0.9 percent following no change in the prior two months. Production of business equipment climbed 0.4 percent after a 1 percent gain. Output of computers and electronic products rose 0.5 percent after increasing 1.7 percent.

The economy expanded at a “moderate” pace across much of the U.S. in February and March, led by manufacturing, with labor markets showing improvements in most regions, the Fed said this week in its Beige Book report.

All 12 districts reported a pickup in manufacturing since the March report, with regional industries expanding including auto and auto parts, commercial aircraft and fabricated metal products, the Fed said.

The manufacturing industries that account for 11 percent of the economy are likely to remain at the forefront of the recovery as consumers step up spending and businesses replenish inventories and buy new equipment.

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