Factory output hits six-month high as winter exits

Factory production climbed to a six-month high in February as U.S. industry began to shake off severe winter weather.

The Federal Reserve reported Monday that manufacturing output climbed 0.8 percent in February, its highest rate of growth since August. The median forecast from analysts had projected a 0.3 percent climb.

February’s strong growth nearly erased a 0.9 percent manufacturing decline in January, which the Fed partly attributed to extreme cold temperatures and adverse winter weather nationwide.

Overall industrial production was up 0.6 percent in February, also exceeding analyst expectations.

Exactly how much of an impact a severe band of record-low temperatures and snow across much of the United States had played in a recent economic slowdown has been a central debate for the last several weeks. Fed officials and their business contacts have frequently cited the adverse conditions as a major contributor to the gloomier data, which included a pair of job reports that came up well short of expectations.

Monday’s report bolsters the notion that the slowdown was temporary and due to specific conditions, and it comes on the heels of a February job report that exceeded expectations and showed more workers entering the labor force.

The Fed is currently trying to exit its latest round of “quantitative easing,” and has said it would take a significant downturn in the economic outlook to divert its course of slowing shrinking the size of its monthly bond purchases.

The Fed is set to hold a policy setting meeting this week, and Chairwoman Janet Yellen will discuss the central bank’s decision at a press conference Wednesday, her first as leader of the institution.