In manufacturing, production was led by a 1.4% increase in paper and a 1.3% increase in plastics and rubber products. On the downside, electrical equipment, appliances and components fell 1.5%, furniture and related products fell 1.4% and textiles fell 1.4%.
Utilities had a very poor month as natural gas distribution plunged 12.9%, while electric power generation, transmission and distribution fell 5.0%. As a result, the industry lost 1,000 jobs in February, the second straight month of job losses. Since these are also highly paid jobs, losing these jobs is bad news.
Compared to a year ago, production was up the most for machinery, having risen 5.1% since last February. Computer and electronic products were up 5.0%, while wood products were up 3.7%. Conversely, the worst performance was in natural gas distribution, which was down 10.6%, and electric power generation, transmission and distribution, which was down 6.7% from a year ago.
Survey data for manufacturing has been quite strong recently, and that optimism is finally showing up in real activity. A few more months of real data will clarify whether manufacturing has truly turned the corner. More business-friendly policies should help.