WASHINGTON – American industry expanded for the fourth consecutive month in January but has yet to recover fully to the level of activity that preceded the pandemic.
U.S. industrial production, which includes output factories, mines and utilities, rose 0.9% last month, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday. That followed increases of 1.3% in December, 0.9% in November and 1.1% in October.
While the January activity was greater than most economists had projected, it was 1.8% below production in January 2020, reflecting lingering economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturing rose 1% even though production of autos and auto parts (down 0.7%) was constrained by a shortage of semiconductors used in vehicles.
Mining jumped 2.3% on a burst of oil and gas drilling, up for five straight months and 11.3% in January alone. Still, drilling is down 50.5% over the past year.
An unusually warm January caused utility output to fall 1.2% in January; natural gas production slid 5.7%. But the utility drop “looks set to more than reverse in February'' after blasts of snow and frigid temperatures across much of the country, Andrew Hunter, senior economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a research note.
Nearly 3 million customers in Texas remained without power Wednesday after historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge in demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows. The cold snap buckled the state’s power grid and caused widespread blackouts.