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Idle capacity at US factories reaches record

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Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Empty factories and parking lots are stark symbols of the thousands of manufacturing jobs that have left Dayton, Ohio, in recent years.

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Nearly 30 percent of America's factory capacity lay idle last month – a record that has only been matched once in more than 40 years of government record-keeping.

The only other time that the capacity utilization rate was as low as 70.9 percent was in December 1982, the Federal Reserve reported Monday.

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Industrial production also fell 1.4 percent in February, bringing that number to a low not seen since April 2002. February marked the fourth consecutive monthly decline in production.

If there was a silver lining, it was that the decline is slowing in nonauto manufacturing, points out Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS Global Insight. So while output fell 2.6 percent in December, the decline was smaller in each of the following two months. By February, it was down 1.2 percent.

When bearish news gets less bearish is it really bullish? Well, yes, in this economy, which is still looking for a bottom.