UK industrial production figures disappoint

Man in a factory producing tinsel Analysts had been hoping for a bigger rise in industrial output in November

Disappointing figures on industrial production and construction in November have added to fears that the UK economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012.

The index of production grew 0.3% in November, compared with October, but had been expected to grow more as some North Sea oil and gas production resumed following maintenance.

Construction sector output contracted 3.4% in the month.

Both figures are components of gross domestic product (GDP).

GDP measures the total amount of goods and services produced by the country, and preliminary GDP figures for the final three months of 2012 are due to be released on Friday 25 January.

The production report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that industrial production was down 2.4% in November compared with the same month a year earlier.

Manufacturing, which is one of the components of the index of production along with mining and quarrying, gas and electricity, and water and sewerage, fell 0.3% compared with the previous month.

"It's a disappointing set of data. We had thought that we might see a bounce back in manufacturing output over the month, but what we saw instead was a further contraction," said Philip Shaw, an economist at Investec.

"Most of the official data are suggesting weakness over the fourth quarter."

'Over the threshold'

The ONS report on output in the construction industry showed a 9.8% drop compared with November 2011.

But the really important figure on construction will be the one for December, according to Alan Clarke at Scotiabank.

"December is a big month for construction because we've had really bad snow for the last two Decembers, so that may yet save us from a fractionally negative (GDP) reading," he said.

But he added that, "this probably pushes us over the threshold into a negative reading for GDP in the fourth quarter".

Both the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility, which prepares economic forecasts for the government, have warned that GDP may have contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012.

The absence of the one-off factors that boosted growth in the third quarter, such as the Olympics, make it more difficult for the economy to register growth in the fourth.

"The big picture is that the UK has stalled, it's bouncing along the bottom, it's stable, not growing very much, not falling very much," said Rob Wood, economist at Berenberg Bank.

"That's going to be the theme for the next six months or so - it's one of stagnation."

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