More signs of UK slowdown appear as Brexit gets under way

More signs of UK slowdown appear as Brexit gets under way

LONDON - British industrial output fell unexpectedly in February and manufacturers struggled, according to official data on Friday that added to signs economic growth may have slowed as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

Industrial output fell 0.7 percent in February, worse than all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists that pointed to a 0.2 percent increase and following a 0.3 percent decline in January.

Separate figures showed Britain's goods trade deficit unexpectedly hit a five-month high in February and January's deficit was revised up too, the Office for National Statistics said.

Another batch of figures showing a slump in construction output chimed with recent business surveys that suggested Britain's economic performance probably peaked towards the end of last year.

The latest ONS data suggested manufacturing was not making up for signs of a consumer spending slowdown as some economists had hoped following the pound's post-Brexit vote drop.

Output in manufacturing, which accounts for about 10 percent of Britain's gross domestic product, unexpectedly fell 0.1 percent following a 1.0 percent fall in January, disappointing against forecasts for a 0.3 percent rise in the Reuters poll.

British manufacturing had a mixed performance in 2016, with economic growth driven mostly by the much larger services sector and consumer spending.

A closely-watched business survey on Monday showed British manufacturing lost some of its momentum in March, as export orders grew more slowly and demand for consumer goods faltered against a backdrop of rising inflation pressures.

Separate figures from the ONS showed Britain's goods trade deficit with the rest of the world rose to 12.461 billion pounds, compared with an upwardly revised 11.971 billion pounds in January. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 10.9 billion pounds.

The ONS said the trade deficit was pushed up by erratic factors like imports of gold and aircraft.

The ONS also released figures for construction output in February, which slumped 1.7 percent on the month - the biggest drop in almost a year.

The Reuters poll had pointed to stagnation on the month but output in February was dragged down by 2.6 percent drop in the housebuilding sector, the sharpest decline since mid-2015.

On the year, construction output rose just 0.5 percent in February - the weakest reading since March 2016 and a far cry from forecasts for a 1.9 percent rise.

 

 

(Reporting by Andy Bruce and Alistair Smout)

 

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