Manufacturing sector secures longest run of growth for 20 years

Britain's factories enjoyed further growth in November as the sector notched up its seventh month of expansion in a row for the first time in 20 years.

Official data showed that manufacturing output surged by 3.9% year-on-year over the three months to November, the biggest rise since March 2011, and by 0.4% between October and November.

This helped overall industrial output lift 3.3% over the three months and by 0.4% between October and November alone as it was also boosted by energy demand in the autumn cold snap, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The manufacturing cheer comes as British goods are in high demand overseas thanks to the pound's falls since the Brexit vote.

The longest run of monthly expansion since 1997 means manufacturing output is now at levels close to the pre-financial crisis peak seen in February 2008 and is set to provide a fillip for the wider economy in the face of more difficult consumer pressures.

But ONS figures showed a more difficult autumn for the construction sector, with output dropping by 2% in the three months to November, compared with the previous three months, the biggest fall since August 2012.

This came despite a 0.4% rise month-on-month in November alone, as the increase was offset by falls of 1.1% in October and 1.9% in September.

Housebuilding was the only bright spot in the quarter, the ONS figures showed.

It leaves a question mark over whether growth will pick up in the fourth quarter of 2017 from the 0.4% seen in the previous three months, although more clues will be given when data for the services sector are released later this month.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at the EY Item Club, said it was a "mixed bag of November data that overall maintain our view that UK gross domestic product (GDP) growth was likely 0.4% quarter-on-quarter again in the fourth quarter of 2017".

But Chris Williamson at IHS Markit said recent purchasing managing index surveys suggest manufacturing "fared well again in December and that the construction sector continued to show signs of stabilising somewhat after the downturn seen earlier in the year.

"The data so far suggest that fourth quarter economic growth could match, or even beat, the 0.4% expansion of GDP seen in the third quarter," he added.

Figures also out on Wednesday from the ONS meanwhile showed the overall trade deficit widen in November to a five-month high of £2.8 billion from £2.3 billion in October.

But on a three-month-on-three-month basis, the deficit narrowed by £2.1 billion to £6.2 billion

Encouragingly, total exports rose by 0.6% month on month in November and were up by 2% in the three months to November compared to the three months to August.

Total imports rose 1.6% month on month in November and were up by 0.6% in the three months to November compared to the three months to August.