US industrial production likely fell in March

Economic IndicatorsAssociated Press

The Federal Reserve releases March industrial production figures Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. Eastern.

FACTORY FUNK: Economists expect that industrial production slid 0.3 percent in March, according to a survey by FactSet.

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In February, overall industrial output edged up 0.1 percent, largely because bitter winter cold kept utilities busy generating heat. Output at factories fell in February for the third straight month, pushed down by a drop in auto production.

American manufacturers have been hurt in recent months by a sharp rise in value of the dollar, which makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas.

Factory orders have fallen six of the past seven months, according to the Commerce Department.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said that factories expanded at a weaker pace in March for the fifth consecutive month. Its manufacturing index dropped to 51.5 in March from 52.9 in February; factory hiring was flat. Still, any reading over 50 signals growth.

WARMING UP: Economic growth has been unimpressive the past six months. The economy grew at a 2.2 percent annual pace the last three months of 2014 and likely expanded no more than 1 percent from January through March. But economists expect growth to pick up in the current April-June quarter, pulled higher by consumer spending. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales climbed 0.9 percent in March after dropping in February — a sign that Americans may be out shopping again after staying indoors during a nasty winter.