The UK's hopes of avoiding a return to recession remain in the balance following mixed figures on manufacturing and exports.
Economists were cheered by a month-on-month improvement of 0.8 per cent in factory output for February, reversing some of the 1.9 per cent slide in January.
But separate figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also showed a widening in the UK's trade deficit, largely due to a 1.1 per cent fall in exports amid weaker demand from the beleaguered Eurozone.
The UK will duck its third recession since the start of the financial crisis if GDP figures on April 25 avoid a second quarter in a row of contraction, but many economists think growth for the first quarter of 2013 will be marginal, having declined by 0.3 per cent in the previous three months.
Markit chief economist Chris Williamson said there were signs of improving business and consumer confidence.
He added: "Economic growth should therefore accelerate in the second quarter, although the on-going crisis in the Eurozone will inevitably continue to dampen export growth and limit the overall pace of expansion."
Commenting on today’s figures for February, Lee Hopley, Chief Economist at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: "The ups and downs in the monthly production data continued in February with a partial reversal of January’s big fall in manufacturing. Notable month on month gains in output were seen across transport, metals and investment goods.
“While many manufacturers are increasing efforts to grow in new markets, another round of weak trade data suggests challenging conditions persist across a number of key markets. In line with much of the survey data we’ve seen since the start of the year it looks like industry will struggle to make a positive contribution to overall growth in the first quarter of 2013."