The outlook for manufacturing received a surprise boost yesterday, with the latest CBI survey of firms showing a pick-up in orders in February.
The proportion of manufacturers reporting above normal order levels hit 21 per cent, while 56 per cent of respondents said orders were normal and 23 per cent said they were below average.
This translated into a total order book balance of minus 3, up from minus 16 in December, and the highest level in six months.
The export orders outlook also registered an improvement, with 22 per cent of respondents claiming overseas sales were higher than usual, 53 per cent saying they were normal and 24 per cent maintaining they were down.
Many UK manufacturers are expecting production to rise over the next three months.
Ian McCafferty, the CBI's chief economic adviser, said: "Both domestic and overseas demand have strengthened, underpinning solid expectations for global growth, which is encouraging news, given the particularly difficult period for business in the final quarter of 2011."
Other recent surveys of manufacturing have also painted a relatively positive picture. The Markit/Cips manufacturing purchasing managers' index rose from 49.7 in December to 52.1 in January, indicating the sector is expanding.