The final closure of Peugeot's Ryton car plant was the main factor in a surprise 0.6 per cent drop in Britain's manufacturing output between January and February, following a 0.2 per cent dip in January, writes Nevill Boyd Maunsell.
National Statistics reported widespread decreases across manufacturing in February, most of them small. The biggest single component was a 1.3 per cent fall in output of "transport equipment".
The impact of the Peugeot shutdown contrasted with strong output in the motor industry in January, when some plants were catching up after Christmas.
"It is not necessarily a low figure in itself," one statistician commented.
The setback coincided with a similar pattern in output by the aircraft industry. "It isn't a low figure, but it is a fall from quite a strong picture," the statistician said.
There were no significant increases in other industries to offset these shortfalls, so that the resulting drop in overall manufacturing output was the sharpest in any month since October 2005.
"It is a good reminder that all is not one way or rosy," commented David Page, an economist at Invest-ec.
Overall industrial production - including extractive industries and supplies of electricity, gas and water as well as manufacturing - also slumped by 0.2 per cent in February, leaving the total 0.3 per cent higher year on year.
A sharp recovery in oil output as a new oilfield built up its production in February boosted "mining and quarrying" output by 2.6 per cent.
But over the latest three months it still registered a 1.5 per cent shortfall to a level 8.4 per cent below December/February a year earlier.
The electricity gas and water industries stepped up their activities by 1.4 per cent in the latest three months to a level 2.8 per cent higher year on year.
The biggest single factor in this recovery was a switch back to lower cost nuclear output that has been disrupted in the autumn.
NS pointed out that manufacturing sectors that did best in 2006, such as transport equipment and chemicals, are still attracting strong orders. February's weakness was likely to be temporary for them.
Food, drink and tobacco, though, faced a more worrying outlook as more and more companies chose to locate abroad.