US industrial production likely posted modest gain in February

EnergyAssociated Press

The Federal Reserve releases February industrial production figures Monday at 9:15 a.m. Eastern.

FEBRUARY FARE: Industrial production is expected to show a small increase of 0.2 percent, according to a forecast by economists at JPMorgan Chase.

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MANUFACTURING SLOWS: In January, industrial output and production at factories both gained 0.2 percent, suggesting that manufacturing is still supporting the economy.

The biggest change is expected to come from a jump in utility output due to unusually cold weather last month. Economists believe that mining declined because of falling energy prices.

Oil prices have fallen by about half since last summer. That has caused drilling companies to hold off on digging new wells and has limited oil and gas extraction.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group for purchasing managers, reported that its index of manufacturing activity slipped to a reading of 52.9 in February, marking the fourth straight drop and the lowest reading since January 2014. The ISM index showed that orders, hiring and production all slowed last month.

While factory growth is still boosting the U.S. economy, manufacturing growth has been more sluggish in recent months. The ISM manufacturing index hit a three-year high in August.

A labor slowdown at West Coast ports was blamed for disrupting shipments of needed parts and materials, but with the dispute just recently resolved, the hope is that factories may see a boost in coming months.

Another source of concern has been the strengthening value of the dollar against foreign currencies. That makes U.S. exports more expensive overseas while making imported goods cheaper for U.S. consumers. The trade deficit widened in the October-December quarter and that subtracted 1.1 percentage points from the economy's growth rate during the quarter.

Growth slowed to a rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter and many analysts believe that level will be maintained in the January-March quarter as well.