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Ahead of the Bell: US Industrial Production

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CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER | March 17, 2014 08:52 AM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve issues its February report on U.S. industrial output, which includes factories, mines and utilities. The report will be released at 9:15 a.m. Eastern Monday.

HIGHER OUTPUT: Economists predict that industrial production rose 0.2 percent in February, partly rebounding from the previous month's drop of 0.3 percent. January's decline was the first in six months. Severe winter weather shut down automakers and other factories and disrupted supply shipments. That caused manufacturing output to plummet 0.8 percent.

Factory output is the most important component of industrial production. Cold weather pushed up utility output 4.1 percent in January.

MANUFACTURING THAW?: Manufacturing and the broader economy may be emerging from a winter slump. A rebound in factory output could drive faster growth in the coming months.

A private survey earlier this month found that manufacturers received more orders in February, even as production fell. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said that its overall index of manufacturing activity rose to 53.2 in February from 51.3 in the previous month.

And Americans spent a bit more at retail stores in February after sales had fallen sharply in both December and January. That suggests consumer demand is picking up, which could lead to more factory output.

But some other data has been negative. A government report showed that factory orders dipped 0.7 percent in January. That could have held back production last month.

Auto sales have slowed this year after a big gain in 2013. Sales were flat in February after a 3 percent drop in January.

And businesses restocked their store shelves and warehouses in January even as sales fell. That means retailers and other firms could be stuck with some unwanted goods. Rising inventories could lower factory production if companies cut back on orders.

Growth will likely come in at a 2 percent annual rate or below in the first three months of this year, economists forecast, down from more than 3 percent in the final six months of last year.