WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. factories likely increased their output in April after cutting back slightly in March, helped by another solid month of auto production.
Total industrial production, which includes output at factories, mines and utilities, rose 0.4 percent in March. But the increase was largely because Americans had to use more heat during a colder-than-normal in March. Utility output surged 5.3 percent.
Factory output, which is the largest component of industrial production, fell 0.1 percent in March. Broader weakness at factories offset a 2.9 percent gain in production of autos and auto parts.
The Federal Reserve will report on April industrial production at 9:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
Economists are expecting factories were busier in April, in part because U.S. automakers are coming off another strong month.
Ford, GM, Chrysler and Nissan all reported double-digit U.S. sales increases, signaling the best April for car and truck sales in six years. Car sales have risen steadily this year after reaching a five-year high in 2012.
Auto output is up 10.2 percent over 12 months ending in March.
U.S. factories may also be getting some help from improved conditions in Europe. Industrial production in the 17 European nations that use the euro currency rose 1 percent in March. It was double the gain that had been expected and raised hopes that the recession in the currency bloc has eased or even ended.
That would be good for U.S. manufacturers, which have seen export sales to Europe weaken due to Europe's prolonged debt crisis.
Still, other data on U.S. manufacturing has been disappointing. The Institute for Supply Management said that its index of manufacturing activity slowed to a reading of 50.7 in April — lowest reading this year. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.
Some companies may be worried that across-the-board government spending cuts are weighing on economic growth this year. And sales could be affected by an increase in Social Security taxes, which has reduced take-home pay for most Americans.
So far, the consumer has remained resilient in the face of higher taxes.
The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the January-March quarter, buoyed by the fastest rise in consumer spending in more than two years.
And lower-priced gas helped Americans boost spending at retailers in April, from cars and clothes to electronics and appliances. That raised hopes that the April-June quarter is off to a good start.
Steady job growth and cheaper gasoline has helped offset some of the pinch from higher taxes. And a surging stock market and increases in home prices may be making consumers feel wealthier and more inclined to spend.
Most economists still expect growth to weaken slightly in the April-June quarter. But after seeing the more upbeat retail sales figures for April, some analysts raised their forecasts. Analysts at JPMorgan now predict growth will slow to a 2 percent rate, up from their previous forecast of 1.5 percent.