Factory Output Falls Most Since August Amid Drop in Autos

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

Output at U.S. manufacturers fell in March by the most since August as production of automobiles and parts and business equipment declined, Federal Reserve data showed April 18.

Key Points

• Factory production dropped 0.4%, following a 0.3% rise in February (forecast called for unchanged).

• Total industrial production gained 0.5% on a record jump in utility output (forecast called for 0.5% rise).

• Capacity utilization, which measures the amount of a plant that is in use, rose to 76.1% from 75.7% in the prior month (forecast called for 76.1%).

Big Picture

The weakness in auto manufacturing mirrors a slowdown in sales to consumers, indicating that a broader recovery in factories remains bumpy, with production rising 0.8% last month from a year earlier. The rebound in utility output follows two months of sharp declines amid unusually warm weather and may reflect stronger demand for heating with March temperatures that were a bit more seasonal.

Other Details

• Utility output rose 8.6%, the most in data going back to 1939, after a 5.8% drop the previous month.

• Production of motor vehicles fell 3%, the most since last May. Excluding autos and parts, industrial production fell 0.3% after a 0.4% rise.

• Oil and gas well drilling rose 7.7%.

• Production of nonenergy materials fell 0.6% after a 0.7% gain.

• Production of nondurable consumer goods rose 2.1%, while output of business equipment decreased 0.4%.

• Machinery production fell 0.5% and output of computers and electronics rose 0.9%.