WASHINGTON – U.S. industrial production in April posted the biggest increase since November 2014 as utility output surged, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday.
Industrial output — which includes factories, mines and utilities — rose 0.7 per cent from March. It had dropped the previous two months.
Fueling the improvement was utility production, which surged 5.8 per cent in April. It was the biggest jump since February 2007. Demand for electricity and natural gas returned to more normal levels after unusually mild March weather.
Factory output rebounded 0.3 per cent, the most since January, helped by a solid increase in auto and machinery production. The dollar, which surged in 2014 and 2015, has been falling against major currencies since January. A lower dollar provides some relief to factories by making their goods less expensive in foreign markets.
Mining production dropped 2.3 per cent, marking the eighth straight decline as energy companies reduced oil and gas drilling. Coal producers have also cut back in the face of lower-price competition from natural gas.
Overall, American industry remains slack. Factories were operating at 75.3 per cent of capacity last month, up slightly from March but well below their long-run average of 78.5 per cent.
The industrial weakness reflects a sluggish economy. The U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of just 0.5 per cent from January through March, decelerating from an already-lacklustre 1.4 per cent rate the last three months of 2015. The job market has remained resilient despite the weak growth. But employers added just 160,000 jobs in April, the fewest since September.