Manufacturing failed to expand for the first time in five months in September, raising concerns economic growth in the third quarter may not have been as strong as initially estimated.
But economists said the weak reading would not alter near-certain expectations of higher interest rates this week as the Bank of England seeks to tackle above-target inflation.
"It doesn't change how the Bank of England sees the world and we still expect the BoE to raise rates on Thursday," said David Page, an economist at Investec.
"But it certainly raises questions further ahead as to how high rates need to go with growth failing to reach trend levels, let alone exceed them."
The wider gauge of industrial activity also came in weaker than expected, rising by just 0.2 per cent month-on-month and by 0.5 per cent on the year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Analysts had predicted a 0.3 per cent monthly rise and a 0.6 per cent annual increase.
That meant output in the three months to September was just 0.1 per cent higher than the previous quarter, which the ONS said could shave 0.04 percentage points off the 0.7 percent first estimate of growth in third-quarter gross domestic product.
The second estimate of third-quarter GDP is due on November 24.
"We are looking for a downward revision to GDP growth in Q3 because of the industrial surprise and because the manufacturing data are consistent with weaker service sector output than was first estimated," said Alan Castle, an economist at Lehman.
The ONS said manufacturing output was flat in September, below forecasts for an increase of 0.2 per cent, and the weakest since April.
The annual rate of growth came in at 2.0 per cent - its highest since September 2004 but still below forecasts for a reading of 2.3 per cent.
Analysts said the data portrayed a sector beyond its peak.
"Softer survey evidence for October from the purchasing
managers and, particularly, the CBI also indicate that the sector could be losing some momentum," said Howard Archer, an economist at Global Insight.
"Certainly, there are some worrying clouds on the horizon for UK manufacturers. Strong export demand has been a key factor driving manufacturers' improved performance in 2006, but it seems highly likely that global growth will be significantly softer in 2007.
"Meanwhile, UK manufacturers' competitiveness is being damaged by the current strength of the pound - it has recently climbed to a two-year high on its trade-weighted index.
"Industrial production expanded modestly in September due to higher oil production as maintenance work in the North Sea ended.
"Even so, overall industrial production growth of 0.1 per cent in the third quarter was less than the 0.3 per cent expansion estimated by the ONS raising the possibility that overall third-quarter GDP growth of 0.7 per cent could be revised down."
Last week, the CIPS/RBS purchasing managers' index for October showed factory activity growth slowing more than expected.