By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
WASHINGTON -- U.S. factories made more cars, computers and airplanes last month, a hopeful sign that manufacturing is recovering after a weak spring.
Industrial production increased 0.6 percent in July from June, the fourth straight monthly increase, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.
Factory output, the most important component of industrial production, rose 0.5 percent, the second straight increase. Factory output has risen 21.9 percent since its recession low hit in June 2009 and is just 1.7 percent below the pre-recession peak for factory output reached in April 2007.
Manufacturing, which helped lift the economy out of the Great Recession three years ago, slowed this spring as consumers cut back on spending and businesses invested less in machinery and equipment.
Some feared factory output could weaken further in coming months Europe's financial crisis and slower global growth cut demand for U.S. exports.
A survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Thursday showed that manufacturing conditions in the New York regions shrank in August. The Empire State index fell to -5.9, down from a reading of 7.4 in July. That left the index, which tracks manufacturing conditions in New York state, well below its six-month average of 8.0.
U.S. manufacturing activity shrank in June and July, according to a survey by the Institute for Supply Management. June was the first time the survey showed manufacturing contracted in three years.
However, a handful of government reports in recent weeks suggest the economy may be emerging from its spring slump.
Employers added 163,000 jobs, the best job growth since February. Consumers increased their retail spending in July by the most in five months. And the value of U.S. exports reached a record high in June.