Hope that Britain's economic recovery is broadening beyond consumer spending have been boosted by news that manufacturers enjoyed their strongest annual growth for more than three years in April.
The Office for National Statistics said manufacturing output rose 0.4% on the month before, leaving it up 4.4% on the year, the fastest expansion since early 2011. That monthly growth was as forecast in a Reuters poll of economists.
That drove a pick-up for the wider industrial sector, which also includes utilities, mining and waste management. Industrial output was up 0.4% on the month and 3% on the year, again marking the strongest growth for more than three years.
Manufacturing slumped during the downturn and is still 7% below the economy's pre-crisis peak in early 2008. But the manufacturers' organisation EEF predicted this week that the sector will continue to rebound this year and with growth of 3.6% will outstrip the wider economy.
Analysts said the official numbers for April on manufacturing, which makes up a tenth of the UK economy, boded well for the government's push to rebalance away from reliance on domestic, consumer demand.
"Britain's factories are booming, enjoying their best spell of growth for four years," said Chris Williamson, chief economist at data specialists Markit, whose own survey on the sector showed solid growth continuing in May.
"The data not only indicate that the recovery has strong momentum, but also that the economy is rebalancing, though there is still a long way to go before manufacturing even regains its pre-recession size."
The ONS said the main boost to manufacturing in April on a year ago came from rubber, plastic and other non-metallic mineral products. There was also support from transport equipment and food and drinks.
David Tinsley, UK economist at BNP Paribas, said there were signs strong growth would continue.
"Overall this is a solid start to the second quarter – if manufacturing production went sideways in May and June it would still be up 1.1% over the quarter. And all survey evidence suggests a better performance than that is possible," he said.
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