Output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities rose a faster-than-expected 0.8 percent in December, the sharpest increase in five months, the Federal Reserve said.
Manufacturing output grew 0.4 percent, and utility output increased 4.3 percent, as unusually cold weather boosted demand for heating.
Factory output excluding motor vehicles rose 0.5 percent in December. Automakers decreased output by 0.2 percent as companies sought to keep inventories down.
The operating rate for factories increased to 73.2 percent from a revised 72.9 percent in November but still was below its 1972-2009 average of 79.2 percent. Including mining and utilities, capacity utilization rose to 76 percent from 74.5 percent.
Overall industrial production increased at an annual rate of 2.4 percent during the fourth quarter, more slowly than in the year's first three quarters but still a welcome expansion.
Friday's report was the latest to suggest continued growth in manufacturing.
The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index for last month rose to 57, the highest in seven months. A level above 50 signals expansion.
Federal Reserve policymakers said in their "beige book" survey this week that manufacturing growth continues and that, "Overall, demand was generally characterized as stable and steady."
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