WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. factory output rose a stronger-than-expected 0.4 percent in December, closing out a strong quarter in which overall industrial production advanced at its fastest clip in 3-1/2 years.
The data from the Federal Reserve on Friday was the latest to underscore a strengthening in the economy.
Helped by the rise in manufacturing activity, overall output at the nation's factories, mines and utilities rose 0.3 percent. Mining production rose 0.8 percent, but utilities output dropped 1.4 percent after a big November gain.
For the fourth quarter as a whole, industrial production advanced at a 6.8 percent pace, the largest quarterly increase since the second quarter of 2010.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected factory output to rise 0.3 percent, while the gain in overall industrial production matched forecasts.
To increase output, U.S. industry employed 79.2 percent of its capacity - the most since June 2008 and a touch above forecasts. Still, capacity use remained 1 percentage point below its long-run average, the Fed said.
(Reporting by Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Andrea Ricci)