Despite a measure of caution on the part of consumers, new data Friday suggested that the economy had underlying strength. Factories reported a healthy gain in output in February, and inflation remained under control, even though gasoline prices have been rising sharply.
Led by the automobile sector, industrial production jumped 0.7 percent in February, the biggest gain in three months, the Federal Reserve said. Economists had been expecting a 0.4 percent rise.
By contrast, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s preliminary reading for consumer sentiment in March showed a marked drop; the index fell to 71.8, from 77.6 in February. That was its lowest level since December 2011.