MANUFACTURING sector activity drifted to an eight-month low in February as a jump in new orders failed to counter a slowdown in production, according to latest findings released today (Thursday, March 1).

The Markit/CIPS UK manufacturing purchasing managers' index (PMI) gave a reading of 55.2 last month, which was down from January’s 55.3 but above economist expectations of 55.

Any reading above 50 separates growth from contraction.

The report said that, despite new orders picking up pace over the period, companies saw production growth eke out its slowest expansion for nearly a year.

The sluggish performance marks a stark contrast to the final months of 2017 when manufacturers ended the year on a strong footing, with output climbing to a four-year high in November.

Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit, which helps compile the report, said February's performance gave "mixed signals" on the health of the UK manufacturing sector.

He said: “Positive news was provided by other survey indicators suggesting output growth may revive in the coming months.

“New orders showed the largest monthly gain since November and are outpacing the rate of growth in output to one of the greatest extents in more than a decade.”