UK industrial output falls in February

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Activity in the UK's industrial and construction sectors shrank in February, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics said industrial output fell 0.7% compared with January, when it dropped 0.3%.

Unexpectedly warm weather drove the change, because it led to a fall in electricity and gas demand, the ONS said.

Construction output fell by 1.7% in February, down from a revised January reading of zero growth.

The construction figure, the biggest drop in nearly a year, was mainly the result of a 2.6% fall in the housebuilding sector.

Meanwhile, the UK's deficit in goods and services widened to £3.7bn in February, from a revised figure of £3bn in January.

According to the ONS, the deficit was fuelled by what it called "erratic items", such as imports of gold and aircraft.

"The overall trade deficit worsened, but excluding erratic items, the picture improved, as imports fell more than exports," said ONS senior statistician Kate Davies.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Markit, called the figures "a disappointing package of data for the UK economy which fuels suspicion that GDP growth slowed markedly, largely due to consumers becoming more cautious".

He added: "We suspect UK GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 slowed to 0.4% quarter-on-quarter from 0.7% quarter-on-quarter in the fourth quarter of 2016 - this would be the weakest growth rate since the first quarter of 2016."

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