LONDON British factory output had its strongest growth in nearly seven years in late 2016 and early 2017 and exports also grew quickly, data showed on Friday, suggesting a Brexit boost for the sector from sterling's fall.
Manufacturing output fell by 0.9 percent in January, a bigger decline than the 0.6 percent fall forecast in a Reuters poll of economists.
But over the November-January period, factory output was up 2.1 percent, its strongest showing since the three months to May 2010, the Office for National Statistics said.
Overall industrial output fell 0.4 percent in January, in with the median forecast in the Reuters poll.
In annual terms, manufacturing output was up 2.7 percent while industrial output grew 3.2 percent.
Britain's manufacturing sector struggled to grow much in recent years but has shown signs of a pick up recently, possibly helped by the fall in the pound after voters decided in June that Britain should leave the European Union, and by a recovery in key European markets.
Earlier this week, EEF, a group representing manufacturers, said the sector grew at its fastest pace in more than three years in early 2017.
However, manufacturing accounts for only around 10 percent of Britain's gross domestic product and there have been signs recently that consumers, whose spending helped the economy withstand the Brexit shock, are turning more cautious.
Separate figures from the ONS showed Britain's goods trade deficit with the rest of the world narrowed slightly in January to 10.833 billion pounds, smaller than the forecast deficit of 11.05 billion pounds in the Reuters poll.
The ONS also announced a sharp lowering in its estimate of the trade deficit in the fourth quarter of last year to 5.0 billion pounds from a previous estimate of 8.6 billion pounds.
In another sign of an improvement in the country's trade position, volumes of goods exports over the three months to January grew by 8.7 percent, the strongest increase in more a decade, while imports grew by 1.6 percent.
An ONS statistician said there was no direct evidence from businesses that the fall in the value of the pound was helping exports but their performance over the last six months suggested an increase in British competitiveness in foreign markets.
British finance minister Philip Hammond wants to make the economy less reliant on domestic consumption, and on Wednesday he pencilled in growth of 0.3 percent in net trade for 2017 after a 0.4 percent decline last year.
The fall in the value of the pound has made British exports cheaper abroad, but it has also pushed up the cost of imported material and fuel used by factories.
The ONS also released figures for construction output in January, which fell 0.4 percent on the month and rose 2.0 percent on the year. The Reuters poll had pointed to a fall of 0.2 percent on the month and growth of 0.2 percent on the year.
(Reporting by William Schomberg and Alistair Smout)