Industrial Production Posts Small Gain in Feb.

U.S. industrial production rose slightly in February, the Federal Reserve said Friday, as increases in mining and utilities output offset slower factory assembly lines.

The Fed said production gained 0.1 percent in the month, compared to the 0.1 percent decrease that Wall Street analysts had forecast. Capacity in use by companies remained unchanged at 75.6 percent in February.

But manufacturing activity, which makes up more than four-fifths of overall production, dipped 0.1 percent, its first decline since December, reflecting a slowdown in auto production in the month.

Mining production rose 1.0 percent and utilities output increased 1.3 percent, pushed up by gains in natural gas and electricity output that were probably related to severe winter weather in the U.S. Northeast in February.

The factory sector, suffering from lack of demand after many businesses overinvested in the late 1990s, was in a severe slump in 2000 and 2001 but stabilized somewhat in 2002.

Recent months' data, though, have been gloomy. A monthly index compiled by the Institute for Supply Management showed manufacturing barely expanded in February, and the Labor Department reported factory payrolls dipped by 53,000 in the month.

In the Fed's report, the fall in manufacturing largely reflected motor vehicle production, which has swung wildly on a month to month basis recently. Auto and parts production fell 2.4 percent in February after a 4.5 percent gain in January.

The rate of motor vehicle assemblies also dipped sharply, to a 12.26 million annual pace from a 12.88 million rate in January.

Outside the auto sector, the picture was slightly better. Overall production excluding cars was up 0.3 percent, while output of high-tech items, such as computers, communications gear and semiconductors, rose 2.2 percent. Over the last 12 months, high-tech production has risen 10.8 percent.