London - British manufacturing output fell in November and industrial production was weaker than expected, official data showed on Friday, sparking renewed speculation that the economy shrank at the end of 2012.
Manufacturing output contracted by 0.3% in November from activity in October and dived by 2.1% on a 12-month comparison, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.
That was worse than market expectations for a monthly increase of 0.5% and an annual drop of 2.1%, according to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.
Manufacturing suffered a sharp downturn as construction industry output fell by 3.4% in November from activity in October - which was the biggest monthly decline for seven months - and tumbled 9.8% on an annual basis.
"November's disappointing UK industrial production and construction figures provided yet more evidence that the economy probably contracted in the fourth quarter of last year," said Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at British research group Capital Economics.
The wider measure of industrial production - which includes also mining and quarrying, electricity, gas and water supply - rose by 0.3% in November from October, but fell 2.4% on an annual basis.
The ONS said that the modest increase in industrial output was caused by the return to production of the North Sea's Buzzard Oil field, which was closed throughout September and October for maintenance.
As a result, oil and gas extraction soared 11.3% in November compared with October. That was the biggest monthly gain since January 1968.
"Although overall production posted a 0.3% monthly rise, this just reflected a bounce-back in the energy sector," added Redwood.
The ONS will publish its initial estimate for British gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter, or October-December period, on January 25.
Britain, which has suffered two recessions since the 2008 financial crisis, will suffer a triple-dip recession should GDP contract in both the fourth quarter of last year and first quarter of 2013.