British industrial output posted a surprise fall in November as oil and gas extraction and electricity production were scaled back sharply, official data showed, raising the prospect the overall economy contracted in the final quarter of 2011.
The figures from the Office for National Statistics confirm recent weak business surveys and boost concerns that Britain is slipping into recession, giving the Bank of England more reason to inject fresh stimulus into the economy to support growth.
British industrial output shrank 0.6 per cent on the month in November, against forecasts for an unchanged reading.
The narrower reading of manufacturing output, which excludes utilities and oil and gas extraction, fell 0.2 per cent on the month in November after a downwardly revised drop of 0.9 per cent in October.
Manufacturing output was down 0.6 percent on the year, the first annual fall since January 2010.
The ONS said the fall in industrial production was driven by a decline in oil and gas extraction, and lower electricity production caused by unusually warm weather in November.
Manufacturers have been one of the few bright spots of Britain's sluggish recovery, but they have been hit by turmoil in the country's main trading partner, the euro zone. Their woes are compounded by cuts in government spending and thriftiness of cash-strapped and downbeat consumers..
Policymakers have warned about the risk of an economic contraction and even recession in Britain. However, the central bank is not expected to announce an increase in its quantitative easing programme later on Thursday and is instead likely to do so in February when it has a clearer picture of where growth and inflation are heading.