U.S. factories cranked out more autos, steel and computers in February, the sixth straight monthly increase in manufacturing output.
Factories are benefiting from greater consumer and business optimism since last fall’s presidential election. Companies are spending more on big-ticket items such as industrial machinery, and Americans are buying cars at near-record levels. Overseas growth has spurred more exports.
Mining output rose 2.7 percent in February, spurred partly by more oil and gas drilling. Utility production plunged 5.7 percent as unseasonably warm weather reduced the need for heating. Overall industrial production, which includes manufacturing, mining and utilities, was unchanged in February.
Factories are emerging from a rough patch that lasted from late 2015 through most of 2016. Sharply lower oil prices hammered demand for drilling equipment, such as steel pipe, and many businesses sold off excess stockpiles, reducing new orders for factory goods.
A strong dollar, which makes U.S. products more expensive overseas, also weighed on exports and factory output for roughly the past two years. The currency’s value has leveled off more recently.
Other measures of manufacturing output also show solid gains. A survey of purchasing managers found that factory activity grew in February at the fastest pace in two years, spurred by rising orders, production and overseas demand.